By Jim Moodie, The Sudbury Star
It’s quite common to see a fox while travelling Highway 637 through Killarney Provincial Park, or even a bear or moose.
A wolf, on the other hand, is a rare sight indeed.
Timber wolves — the larger, stealthier version of the species — are especially hard to spy, not just in Killarney but anywhere. Unlike coyotes or brush wolves, these canines are famously elusive and prefer to keep a healthy distance from highways and humans.
Yet in recent weeks there has been one bold beast of an apparent timber type that is not only emerging at the roadside in Killarney, but lingering there and even approaching people who stop in their vehicles.
“He hangs around the highway,” said Ted East of Killarney Outfitters. “You’ll see him about a kilometre east of the park office, on a straight stretch there. That’s where he holds court.”
East, who has himself seen the wolf numerous times now, said it doesn’t seem to be starving or afflicted with mange. “It looks healthy, and his coat’s in good shape,” he said.
It’s possible, however, that the animal is a cross between a timber wolf and a coyote, he said. That, at any rate, is the theory of a seasoned trapper who works as a foreman with East’s outfitting business.
“It’s not very big,” East said. “He’s not 100 pounds by any means. And timber wolves are 100-plus. He strikes me as pretty young.”
Coyotes and timber wolves can interbreed, with the hybrid sometimes called a coywolf.
More curious than its exact pedigree is just how sociable this supposedly wild and wary animal has become.
“It’s acclimatized to people,” said East. “He’ll come right up to the car door windows and beg for food.”
Some passersby have indeed been tossing treats to the wolf, said East, much to his frustration, and that of others.
“There’s been a lot of discussion on Facebook, especially the Friends of Killarney page,” he said. “People are saying ‘quit feeding the thing.'”
Some commentators have also suggested the wolf has a broken jaw, although East has seen no evidence of that himself. “I don’t think he does,” he said.
The outfitter fears too much contact with people will lead to the wolf becoming a safety concern. “Someone is going to get bit, let alone cause a traffic accident,” he said.
East said he was heading to Sudbury recently and came upon a car stopped in its lane, with an occupant “handing what looked like a hot dog to the wolf.”
He had to drive around the car — and the wolf, which was standing in the middle of the road — into potential oncoming traffic.
“The wolf didn’t even move out of the way for me,” he said. “He just kind of looked and me, and said what the (heck) are you doing, and didn’t budge.”
East said he’s encountered Killarney wolves before in his travels, including while snowmobiling. “One winter I saw four proper timber wolves, and I was shoulder to shoulder with one big lobo on my snow machine,” he said.
This, however, is a new experience. “I see wolves all the time, but not a tame one,” he said.
He said the wolf has been lurking around Highway 637 for a couple of weeks now, and may also be the same wolf that appeared in early May outside a cabin used by Killarney Outfitters staff.
“There was one hanging around there and I’m assuming it’s the same one,” he said.
James Hodgins, an outdoors enthusiast and photographer from Sudbury, got his own glimpse recently of the four-footed celebrity while driving along 637. Make that: several glimpses.
The first time, he took a picture with his smartphone on the way to the village of Killarney. And on the way back, the wolf was there again, so he took another photo.
On a subsequent jaunt he brought his DSLR camera with a 70-200 lens, and again encountered the animal twice — on the way in, and on the way back — this time managing to snap some striking, close-up images.
“I call him Wolfy,” he said. “He’s always there, that guy.”
Hodgins wonders about the health of the wolf, speculating it might have mange. “I think he’s sick and got separated from the pack and is looking for food,” he said. “Either that or somebody’s feeding him, because the last three times going to Killarney, he’s always in the same spot out at the road.”
The photographer appreciates wildlife and welcomed the opportunity to see a wolf at close range, but wouldn’t feed one and also didn’t want to get too close.
The second time he rolled down his window to snap off a picture, the wolf started to approach his vehicle, he said, so he promptly put his window back up and moved on.
“I don’t know how friendly he is, and I don’t want to find out,” he said.
According to Hinterland Who’s Who — a resource co-operatively managed by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the federal environment ministry — “there are no records of wolves killing humans in Canada or the United States,” although there was one case in 2009 of a young woman named Taylor Mitchell being killed by coyotes while hiking on Cape Breton Island.
Her death is the only known fatal coyote attack on an adult, as well as the only known fatal coyote attack on a human in Canada.
In 1996, wildlife biologist Trisha Wyman was killed by five captive wolves at a Haliburton wildlife reserve. Wyman had worked at Science North in Sudbury prior to the tragedy, which was reported as the first documented instance of a timber wolf killing a human.
Timber (or grey) wolves are common in Killarney, but evidence has also been gathered in recent years of an Algonquin wolf presence. These are threatened wolves — previously called eastern wolves — that are estimated to number fewer than 500 mature individuals in Ontario, with most in the area of Algonquin Park.
The Algonquin wolves are “larger than a coyote and smaller than a timber wolf,” according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, but can have the same colouring and markings of their canine relatives.
“Proper identification requires genetic data as it is difficult to visually distinguish due to its similar appearance,” according to the MNRF.