It took a close encounter to twig Paula Wild to the charm — and danger — of the once-threatened wolf.
After crossing paths with the carnivore while driving her car near a remote Quadra Island hiking trail, Wild wondered about her initial “tingling up the spine” reaction, she told On the Coast guest host Margaret Gallagher.
“There was this huge wolf in the middle of the road,” she said. “And I thought, how would I have felt if I had been walking back on the trail all by myself? What would I have done?”
That feeling spawned the author’s upcoming book, Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Co-existence, a guide to living with a wolf population that has been steadily increasing across the province for the last 50 years.
The grey wolf has disappeared from broad swathes of the world, including most of western Europe. But the B.C. population began to return to healthy levels during the 1970s, according to a 2015 provincial report.
There are an estimated 8,500 in B.C. today.
Once ‘demonized’, now photography fodder
Wolves are now returning to areas they haven’t inhabited for decades, Wild said, making encounters with them more likely. Despite a “misconception” that healthy wolves won’t attack humans, it does happen, she added — and it’s usually due to human interference.
“People aren’t used to wolves. They’re not sure what to do,” Wild said. “Wolves are proving capable of adapting to living near human settlements.”
But Wild warns that humans don’t always share the same skill. Feeding wolves, or even getting close enough for a photograph, can habituate a wolf to humans and make bold behaviour more likely.
Keeping wolves wild
She thinks more education could teach nearby residents to keep their distance, make noise to scare away the more curious pack members and keep dogs on-leash when walking through wolf territory.
Poisoning wolf packs was widespread practice during the first half of the 20th century, and culling programs remain in place today.
But the centuries-long relationship between humans and wolves, Wild said, has been defined by shifting perceptions.
The wolf pops up in myths, fairy tales and common expressions, Wild said, pointing out their importance to language and culture.
“We’ve demonized wolves, but now people tend to either fear them or idolize them,” she said. “And we’re maybe not giving them the respect they need as wild animals that do have potential for danger.”
“I hope people will learn to see wolves for what they are, not for what we want or perceive them to be,” she said.
“Wolves will survive on our landscape today if we allow them to, if we learn how to live with them.”