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Grey wolf travelling alone spurs questions for Alberta traveller

Claude Rioux was surprised by a recent grey wolf sighting in the Icefields Parkway. What the Albertan discovered was quite interesting.

Wolf 112 no longer travelling with Sunwapta pack

Claude Rioux, who was travelling in the the Icefields Parkway, saw this wolf near the Athabasca River viewpoint. She was concerned about its behaviour and contacted Parks Canada to find out more about its story. (Submitted by Claude Rioux)

The realities of the wild can often be harsh when it comes to aging. It's something that Claude Rioux found out recently after taking a trip up to the Icefields Parkway in October.

Along the road Rioux came across a grey wolf walking by itself. It was a surprise, since wolf sightings can be a rare occurrence.

Here is a picture of Wolf 112 in her younger days. (Parks Canada)

"Seeing the wolf was a surprise, especially for so long. It brought back memories of all the wildlife I came across during my years living, hiking and climbing in the national parks," said the former Banff resident who now lives in B.C.

Rioux said the wolf was plodding along, minding its own business while it headed north. It kept searching the ditches for "anything that met its demise."

"It made me think that it was alone and looking for food," she said. "The added fact that its head and tail were down gave me the impression that it didn't care much who saw it, and I was worried for it."

Rioux thought the behaviour was a bit strange, so decided to write a email to Parks Canada for information.

"That is Wolf 112. She was collared in 2009, and has always been a member of the Sunwapta pack," Mark Bradley with Parks Canada replied. "She has been seen many times on her own this fall however, so she may no longer be travelling with the pack." 

He said the pack's territory is from just south of the Jasper townsite down to Beauty Creek and the Chaba River, mostly on the west side of Highway 93. The pack has included as many as nine wolves in the past, but has been steady with three to four over the last few years.

Bradley said Wolf 112 started out as a black wolf, but has gradually gone grey over the years.

  • Watch a video of the wolf sighting below. On mobile? Click here.

Wolf movements tracked

Parks Canada has been tracking the movements of many of the province's wolf population. The idea is to collect data on the pack's territory and kill locations to help manage endangered caribou populations.

"She used to be the pack alpha female for quite some time," said Rioux. "But now that she's older, her position must have been taken by another younger wolf. Her leaving the pack is a recent event."

In any pack there is always one breeding pair and some non-breeding wolves, said Bradley.

At first Rioux thought maybe the collar had something to do with the wolf leaving the pack, but Parks Canada said it was not the case.

"It is likely due to old age that she is on her own," said Bradley.

"Most wolves in Jasper die before they are five years old. Old wolves spend more time on the roads, probably because travel is easier. We have no reason to believe that collaring affects the social status of wolves within their packs — we've collared alpha wolves in the past and they have successfully maintained their status into old age."

Bradley said Parks Canada has reservations about putting collars on wildlife, but at this point there just isn't any other way to get data on pack territory. He said at this point it would be nice to take the wolf's collar off, but recapturing her would be riskier than just leaving the collar on.

"Tracking the animals in the wilds is understandable to collect information and understand their range and migration patterns, and should continue to aid Parks to protect these areas and corridors," said Rioux. "I just wish that Parks had access to more sophisticated, and less invasive, equipment to do the tracking."

While it may be a lesson in wildlife management, Rioux said it is still an experience that will stick with her.

"Her wandering the road alone made me rather sad, but it is part of the world in the wilds."

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