Fossilized wolf pup sheds light on wolf migration

When Neil Loveless found a tiny, fos­sil­ized body com­plete with head, tail, fur and skin thaw­ing in per­ma­frost, he thought it was a dog. Although it was not the pre­cious met­al the gold miner was look­ing for, he stored it in a freez­er un­til a pa­le­on­to­lo­gist could check it out.

The re­mains, now iden­ti­fied as a Pleistocene gray wolf pup about sev­en weeks old, were found in the Klondike gold fields of the Canadian Yukon. The fe­male pup lived and died on the an­ces­tral land of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, who have a cul­tur­al and spir­itu­al re­la­tion­ship with wolves. The little pup was named Zhùr, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in word for wolf.

It’s rare to find fos­sil­ized mam­mals from an­cient times, es­pe­cially one as in­tact as Zhùr. Scientific stud­ies con­duc­ted since the dis­cov­ery in 2016, re­veal that Zhùr ate a diet rich in fish, not the more tra­di­tion­al fare of muskox or cari­bou. The fish were prob­ably caught in the nearby Klondike River by her moth­er or oth­er mem­bers of the pack.

Zhùr was old enough to ven­ture out­side the den, was well nour­ished, showed no sign of dis­ease and her re­mains did not ap­pear to have been dis­turbed by pred­at­ors or scav­engers. Scientists spec­u­late that the young wolf died in­side the den when the roof col­lapsed suddenly.

Other fos­sil­ized wolf re­mains have been found in north­ern climes such as Siberia but Zhùr’s is the most com­plete, miss­ing only the eyes. And the ap­prox­im­ately 56,000-year-old body provides tan­tal­iz­ing clues to the move­ment and evol­u­tion of wolves in North America.

Over the years, there have been nu­mer­ous the­or­ies re­gard­ing the mi­gra­tion of wolves between Europe and North America. Genetic tests show that when alive, Zhùr was closely re­lated to ice age wolves in­hab­it­ing Europe but not with wolves found in North America where she lived. Her mum­mi­fied body provides a vi­tal clue to a sig­ni­fic­ant change in the pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ic of grey wolves in Canada at the end of the ice age.

Due to its sci­entif­ic and cul­tur­al im­port­ance, Zhùr’s body has been ac­cep­ted by the Canadian Conservation Institute and is now on dis­play in an ex­hib­it at the Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse.

Feature photo cour­tesy Yukon Government 


The Wolf Moon

The first full moon of the year ap­pears in the heart of winter. And, de­pend­ing on loc­a­tion and cul­ture, it may be called Frost Exploding Moon, Freeze Up Moon or Cold Moon. For ob­vi­ous reas­ons, my fa­vour­ite full moon nick­name is Wolf Moon.

It’s said that Indigenous people dubbed the January moon Wolf as the pred­at­ors could of­ten be heard howl­ing through­out the long, dark nights. While some people be­lieve the wolves are howl­ing at the moon, they ac­tu­ally use that form of vo­cal­iz­ing to de­fend their ter­rit­ory, com­mu­nic­ate with oth­er pack mem­bers or grieve the death of an­oth­er wolf.

Photo by John Cavers

Sometimes wolves seem to howl for the sheer pleas­ure of it or as a warm-up to the nightly hunt. Young pups learn to howl by watch­ing and listen­ing to their elders.

Although vis­ible for sev­er­al nights, the of­fi­cial 2021 Wolf Moon will ap­pear in North America the even­ing of January 28. So, grab your bin­ocu­lars or tele­scope and look up.

And speak­ing of look­ing up, the reas­on people think wolves howl at the moon is that, wheth­er they’re sit­ting, stand­ing or ly­ing down, they al­ways lift their snouts to howl. But that’s more for the vo­cal af­fect than any­thing in the sky.

Try it your­self by look­ing down and howl­ing and then tilt­ing your head back and howl­ing again. Not only does the head-back howl sound bet­ter, the angle of the throat and mouth also pro­jects the sound over a longer distance.



Lighting up the dark…

2020 turned into a weird blip in the 21st cen­tury, where life as we know it, took an ab­rupt and life-chan­ging shift. For many, it has been marked by fear, bore­dom and frustration.

And now it’s the shortest, darkest day of the year. Winter Solstice, the of­fi­cial be­gin­ning of winter. What could be more bleak than that?

But when I look out­side, I can’t help but smile. My neigh­bor­hood and many oth­ers are ablaze with col­our­ful lights and dis­plays. The hol­i­day sparkle began  early this year. I be­lieve it’s hu­man­kinds way of light­ing up the dark in the midst of a glob­al pandemic.

Reflecting on my per­son­al life dur­ing the Time of Covid, I also see some light. One of my most re­ward­ing ex­per­i­ences was a Covid-safe writ­ing re­treat at Cluxewe Resort on Northern Vancouver Island.

Welcome sign and my cab­in at Cluxewe Resort

My cab­in provided a view across Queen Charlotte Strait to the BC main­land, a stun­ning es­tu­ary a short dis­tance to the rear and, per­haps most im­port­ant of all, time.

I op­ted to not hook up to Wi-Fi or turn on the big screen TV so my sound­scape con­sisted of eagles call­ing, pound­ing surf dur­ing a big storm and rain­drops beat­ing a stac­cato rhythm on the met­al roof.

Nature was my only dis­trac­tion and with it came a feel­ing of space, as if the vast­ness out­side had seeped into my mind, provid­ing room to pon­der the book I’m work­ing on and what dir­ec­tion it will take me. The oas­is of that little cab­in and the time and space it provided were pre­cious gifts in a year of un­cer­tainty and upheaval.

Cluxewe River estuary

And, al­though there is still an abund­ance of dark­ness in each 24-hour stretch, light is on the way. The Winter Solstice means minutes of light will be ad­ded to each day and, even bet­ter, Covid-19 vac­cines are on the way.

As 2020 comes to a close, I hope every­one can find some time to think about what lights up their life (even dur­ing Covid) and take at least one small step to make that happen.

Top im­age by Dzenina Lukac


What does a wolf do when it finds it­self in the middle of an urb­an area? Maybe day­light is seep­ing into the sky and people are stir­ring. The wolf’s in­stinct is to find a se­cluded, safe place. So, he plunges into cold ocean wa­ters and swims a couple of kilo­metres through chal­len­ging cur­rents to a small, rocky archipelago.

The wolf prob­ably doesn’t real­ize this will be his home for the next eight years. A col­lec­tion of is­lands with no deer to hunt, no year-round source of wa­ter and no oth­er wolves.

He can see densely pop­u­lated Oak Bay on south­ern Vancouver Island and hear dogs bark­ing there. Sometimes he howls in re­turn. He watches freight­ers and kayakers go by and learns to hunt seals, steal goose eggs and dig for wa­ter to survive.

But most of all, he learns to live alone. This is very un­usu­al as wolves are highly so­cial an­im­als who live in fam­ily groups. No one thought the wolf would stay but, wheth­er by cir­cum­stance or choice, he did. And thrived.

Takaya Lone Wolf is a story about a wolf and a wo­man. The first time Cheryl Alexander heard the wolf howl, she was hooked. The award-win­ning con­ser­va­tion pho­to­graph­er lived a short boat ride away and began watch­ing the wolf she named Takaya. Personal ob­ser­va­tions and pho­to­graphs were aug­men­ted by video foot­age and trail cam­er­as. Before she knew it, she was doc­u­ment­ing the life of a lone wolf.

Alexander’s new book provides an in­tim­ate glimpse into Takaya’s day-to-day life, as well as the vast beauty and rich­ness of his do­main and the wild­life that share it.  The pho­to­grapher­’s per­sist­ence and pa­tience also re­veals some wolf be­ha­viour that has per­haps nev­er been doc­u­mented before.

Takaya Lone Wolf is a beau­ti­ful blend of stun­ning pho­to­graphs with heart­felt words. Alexander in­vites the read­er into a wild­ness that, sur­pris­ingly, can ex­ist close to the cap­it­al of British Columbia in Canada. It also raises ques­tions about how hu­mans re­late to wolves. The book is sched­uled for a September 29 release.

Last year, Takaya and Alexander’s story ap­peared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Nature of Things, as well as BBC TV in the UK and ARTE tele­vi­sion in France and Germany.

For more in­form­a­tion vis­it the Facebook page TAKAYA: @takayalonewolf.