The gray wolf (Canis lupus) gained protection by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and has since seen a population increase in many areas of North America, including Jasper National Park.
The gray wolf is an important keystone of the Jasper National Park ecosystem. Mountain Goats, for example, would not have evolved into skillful mountain climbers without predators like the gray wolf.
The good wolf is even indirectly a protector of plant life. Without the presence of the wolf, grazing animals will graze in areas previously avoided and this impacts certain types of fragile plant life.
“The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.”
Parks Canada describes wolves as being difficult for tourists to see in Jasper National Park as wolves like to avoid humans as much as possible. Visitors to the park are more likely to run into the wolf’s smaller yet less timid coyote cousin. While coyotes will bite, there is no record of a wolf ever attacking a human – different than in the movies and literature.
“People always make the wolf more formidable than he is.” (French Proverb)
The gray wolf will hunt in a pack of about 5 wolves and prey on deer, elk, moose, sheep, beaver, birds, rabbits and mice. In severe winter conditions, the pack may grow to 30. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”.
Though no match for a cheetah, wolves are quite fast and can run up to 45 MPH while chasing after prey. Depending on prey availability, a pack’s territory can range from 50 square miles to 1,000 square miles and day’s travels can be up to 30 miles (according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998).
According to the Wolf Recovery Foundation:
“Wolf recovery and management are very polarized, controversial, and emotional issues often involving human attitudes based more on myth than real wolves themselves. Attitudes are often based on inaccurate information, making wolf management perhaps more difficult than any other wildlife management program. For example, some people continue to carry the unfounded fear that wolves attack people or threaten outdoor activities. In fact, wolves generally avoid humans. There are no verified reports of healthy wild wolves ever killing a human in North America.” (Wolf Recovery Foundation, 2006)