Saskatchewan

Signs of Spring: Getting ready for new wolf pups to greet Prince Albert National Park

Researcher Joanne Watson studies the packs in the park and watches for the rare sighting of new pups.

Grey wolf pups are typically born in April and stay in their den site until early June

Grey wolves live in Prince Albert National Park. The park has been studying the wolves on the west side for years. (Parks Canada)

It's a sign of Spring in Prince Albert National Park—the birth of little wolf pups.

Grey wolves have lived in the area for years, and each April, they prepare to have pups on the west side of the park.

"It's exciting," Joanne Watson told CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

Watson is a resource management officer in the park and has spent the last several years tracking the grey wolves that call the park home.

They study a couple different packs through the use of global positioning system (GPS) collars.

"Typically, right around the beginning of April, we see the alpha female drop off," Watson said. "She goes underground to den and give birth to her pups."

Parks Canada staff track the wolves and sometimes get closer than expected. (Parks Canada)

The female can typically have around four to six pups a year, Watson said, and they'll stay in their den until the early summer. Seeing the pups has only happened once so far, she said.

"That is a very tricky, tricky thing to see," Watson said. "We were very privileged to be able to see five little pups running around."

The GPS tracking collars can provide insight into their movements and territories, Watson said.

"We can also see their general movements so how they move about their territory on the landscape while they're hunting," she said. "Also, as part of our research study, we were looking at what type of wildlife the packs were feeding on during the winter months."

When the GPS is still in one spot for a couple days, it may be a kill site or place the wolves are eating. If the researchers think it might be a kill site, then they give it a couple days before going out and seeing what the wolves are hunting.

Conservation staff visit wolf kill sites to track what the wolves have been feeding on during the winter months. (Parks Canada)

Generally the wolves hunt moose, deer and elk, but a few bison have been found as well, Watson said.

The wolves tend to stay away from each other's territories, she said, but sometimes they come across turf war sites with dead wolves.

"Mother Nature isn't always beautiful and nice. They have to work hard to keep their territory secure which means their food source is secure," she said.

Generally, the packs on the west side seem to be healthy and have a healthy number, she said.

"A healthy wolf population is a good indicator that the ecosystem—or we like to call it the ecological integrity—is also healthy within the park," she said. "Everything from the grass, to the trees, to the insects, birds and wildlife are healthy."

Watson said maintaining the ecological integrity also maintains the parks for future generations.

When wolves stop in one area for more than a few hours, it usually indicates to park staff that they are feeding on a kill. (Parks Canada)

One moment that stood out to Watson from her years with the wolves was when they got a signal from a location far from the denning site.

In early November, a student and Watson went out to take a look and came into a small meadow filled with the bones of different species.

"We soon figured out that that was a rendezvous site for the pack. So a rendezvous site is an area where the pack will gather and sort of rest and relax together like a dog or pet."

The wolves seemed to have dragged the different bones into the meadow to chew on while they relaxed, she said.

They are very respectful to us out there on the ground.- Joanne Watson, resource management officer

"We actually did get a sighting of a wolf there and it stood its ground and politely asked us to leave," she said. "It came towards us a bit, but stood there and looked at us."

They went back to their snowmobiles to give the wolf space and headed out, she said. When tracking the animals, they sometimes get closer than expected.

"It's really interesting because they are very respectful to us out there on the ground."

The grey wolves in Prince Albert National Park on monitored by GPS collars and trail cameras. (Parks Canada)

"There's this misconception that wolves, they're mean and will instantly try to kill us but that's very far and few between," Watson said. "They work hard at avoiding humans as best they can and they will give us the respect of giving us warning before, you know, we stumble on them too closely."

Watson wants to remind people to respect and remember they're in the wildlife's home range.

"Listen to the warning signs and give the appropriate space so that all the experiences are positive and exciting."

This month the wolves in Prince Albert National Park will be giving birth to a new batch of wolf cubs. Joanne Martin has been tracking their activity. She'll share stories of some close wolf encounters she's had, including an unexpected pup sighting a few years back. 10:28

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend