He Is Not Your Average Dog!
Wide-ranging, uncommonly intelligent, .... and incredibly busy! Who else could have found the time to help to create the worlds of both Native Americans and ancient Mongolians, assist Krishna in ancient India, and then enabled the founding of Rome? I'll give you a hint: his cousin may be sitting at your feet right now!
Only the Wolf!
Ready for a Five Continent Wild(life) Adventure?
Life List the Legend!
“Ok,” you say, “but, a wolf life list?
How many types of wolves are there, anyway?”
Well, not counting the (some say 13 or so) species and subspecies that have gone extinct since 1800, today, 3 wolf species live on our planet … or maybe 5. Or is it 9? And perhaps a dozen or so subspecies… or... some say over 30.
Confused? So are the experts.
So what is the real wolf story? You decide. Two things are certain:
# 1. Wolves are Amazing!
Maybe the most fascinating animal in the world! Did you know that wolf packs are actually family? They are monumentally patient parents (and aunts and uncles!) They seem to have a sense of humor too, even the adults love to play tricks on each other, and tease and play. They've been documented making toys out of sticks and other found treasure. You can't help but laugh watching them
# 2. And Wolf Watching Will Take You Around the World!
They are everywhere from the highest mountains to the deserts. A wolf sighting life list will take patience and perseverance and planet-wide adventure - literally!
So while the scientists are studying wolf DNA to figure it all out, I will be out watching the real thing! Care to join me?
Starting a Wolf Life-List
So what are we looking for?
Let’s start with eight different wolves: four species and four subspecies - but that is just the beginning! We can add more later, like the Iranian wolf or Alexander Island wolf or the Italian / Apennine wolf or the tundra wolf or…
India, The Himalayan Mountains
(Canis lupus chanco)
Straight to the Roof of the World!
India’s high mountain regions
of Ladaka and Spiti.
Tibetan wolves have developed special adaptations to allow them to live in high altitude, low oxygen environments. Look for them in Hemis National Park in Ladakh, India on the boundary between the peaks of the western Himalayas and the vast Tibetan Plateau.
Trekking here is NOT for the
feint of heart.
There is little, if any, infrastructure here and the altitude is formidable, conditions rough, and even summers are very cold.
Going to the Dogs ... and Cats!
But if you want a real adventure, this highest, most remote and least populated region in all of India has been described as ‘the last Shangri-La.’
Hemis is the largest national park in South Asia and its second largest contiguous protected area. This is also known as the best place in the world to see another iconic species: snow leopards.
Unfortunately for the wildlife, there’s a monastery and six villages located within its confines. This makes protecting the protected animals somewhat challenging. The Tibetan wolves, solo hunters, have developed a taste for the villagers’ livestock, and at last estimate, the villagers retaliated by eliminating all but between 300 and 350 wolves. But the wolves are getting help from an unlikely ally: cats! The Snow Leopard Trust is helping villagers understand how they and their stock animals can live more successfully with both predators.
Trekking for Tibetan wolves helps protect both species.
The Low Down: Tibetan Wolves
Sometimes Called: Often confused with other species and subspecies and sometimes called, Tibetan wolf, Chinese wolf, Mongolian wolf, Korean wolf, steppes wolf, and wooly wolf. Note: This is one of the types of wolves historically thought to be a subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupis chanco) but now is being researched as a possible separate species)
By the Numbers: 300 – 350 individuals
IUNC Red List: Not assessed
Identifying Features: Small in size, longish light colored hair with black streaks, and short legs.
Where: Hemis National Park, Ladakh region, India
When: June through September
Accommodation: As of this writing there are no hotels in or near the park, however home stays with villagers or in the monastery are available care of an initiative by the Snow Leopard Conservancy with help from UNESCO. It is best to coordinate with a local guide or agency. This is a wonderful immersive cultural experience. Hopefully, your (economically beneficial) wolf-viewing visit will encourage villagers to stop exterminating their natural wildlife resource. Conservationists are already having success persuading them to protect snow leopards.
Wildlife Bonus: Snow leopards, Palla’s cat, srapu, bharal, Tibetan argali, Ladakh urial and rhesus macaque plus over 70 species of birds.
Second Stop: Ethiopia
The World's Rarest Canid
With estimates of only 350 – 500 individuals left (IUCN Red List figures are lower) the critically endangered Ethiopian wolf is the rarest, assessed canid in the world, as well as being Africa’s most endangered carnivore.
Still on the Roof!
Ready for Another Climb?
Although they are found only in Ethiopia on six isolated mountaintops, all above 9,850 feet (3,000 meters), they are also one of the most easily spotted species on the life list!
Their numbers are greatest in the Bale Mountain’s Afroalpine meadows where they are being actively studied and conserved and since, unlike their grey cousins, they hunt (endemic, ground living, giant mole rats) in the open during the daytime, wildlife viewing tourists frequently report sightings.
An Unusual Partnership = Unusual (Possible) Wildlife Viewing Experience
Ethiopian wolves are surprisingly adaptable. A Dartmouth College primatologist’s recently published report describes his observation of a pack of Ethiopian wolves in Guassa living together rather cozily with a troop of 600 – 700 (ground foraging) gelada monkeys. The wolves behaved deliberately so as not to spook the primates.
Evidently hunting rodents was easier when the monkeys were grazing, too, either because the monkeys flushed out the rodents or because the wolves used monkeys as a type of living “blind.” And, as the wolves kept wild and feral dogs away, the monkeys seemed to like the presence of the wolves. It begs the question: Who is training whom?
The Low Down: Ethiopian Wolves
Sometimes Called: Abyssinian wolf, Abyssinian fox, red jackal, Simien fox, and Simien jackal
By the Numbers: 300 – 500 individuals.
IUCN Red List: Endangered
Identifying Features: Small, reddish in color. Pregnant females become light golden red.
Where: Bale Mountain National Park, Ethiopia
When: October through May
Accommodation: The new Bale Mountain Lodge, recently opened by a British couple, has pledged a percentage of income to local conservancies including The Ethiopian Wildlife and Conservation Authority. Locals staff the lodge.
Wildlife Bonus: Mountain nyla, gelada monkey, rock hyrax, giant molerat, Menelik’s bushbuck
Third Stop: Sweden
Scandinavian Grey Wolf
Back From Gone
In 1970 wolves were extinct in Sweden; a decade later they began to appear again. This time the Swedes would not let them go!
Due to a new national philosophy that ignited a concerted conservation effort, wildlife has been making a great comeback in Sweden, wolf numbers alone have risen to over 500 individuals. They are especially plentiful in the Bergslagen Forest.
Sleeping With Wolves
The Swedes are understandably proud of their healthy and pristine wild places and are at the forefront of responsible tourism. You’ll enjoy local guides, accommodation, and cuisine with very little excess or resource waste to be found. Cozy eco-huts provide safe opportunities to overnight in the forest, although nighttime wild-life photo ops through the windows may make sleep difficult. Never mind, you can sleep at home. This is a great place to take the entire family, kids included, for a wonderful wildlife experience.
The Low Down: Scandinavian Wolves
Sometimes Called: Eurasian wolf. Although usually referred to as the Scandinavian wolf, DNA analysis shows lineage from Russian and Finish populations.
By the Numbers: 500+ individuals
IUCN Red List: Not individually assessed
Identifying Features: Grey with white chin and throat, yellowish or brown tints in summer coat.
Where: Bergslagan Forest, in central Sweden near the village of Skinnskatteberg is part of the
International Model Forest Network (IMFN) working to find “landscape level socio-economic solutions” to sustainable forest management. Responsible wildlife tourism is part of the solution.
When: June through September
Accommodation: Local lodges and sometimes even forest huts! Sweden has a number of “wolf safari” providers. Wild Sweden specializes in wildlife packages that include opportunities for discussion with experts and locals, evening expeditions to hear wolf howling and even forest safaris. They also accommodate any dietary requirements with advance notice.
Wildlife Bonus: Elk, moose, fox, beaver, brown bear and numerous bird species including Tenmalm’s Owls and Urasian Pygmy Owls.
Fourth Stop: Wyoming, USA
The World's First National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the best place in the continental U.S. to see a wild wolf, and it is also a re-introduction success story.
Almost 70 years after the final remaining wild wolf was shot in the Rocky Mountains in 1926, 31 wolves from Canada were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. Their numbers peaked with 171 individuals in 2008 then fell back naturally balancing the ecosystem.
Note on the trophic cascade: the reintroduction of a few wolves into Yellowstone changed the environment, making it healthier and strengthening its biodiversity, the video below explains how. This is why they are important in other corners of the world. Yes, this is not just another dog.
Bring Sunscreen, Patience, and Luck
As Kathie Lynch advises in the July 2015 edition of “The Wildlife News”, bring plenty of “sunscreen, patience and luck” if you want to see a wolf, however, with a little planning, your chances in Yellowstone are pretty high.
Grey wolves move around a lot. Packs consisting of the breeding alpha pair, their cubs and yearlings ebb and flow. Most young males leave at maturity to search for a mate. In this quest they can be aggressive, take over territories, and even disburse other packs in the process.
Head to the Lamar Valley!
There are consistently successful viewing areas however. The Lamar valley is one of them.
Use the northeast park entrance between Tower Junction and Cook City, Montana. Lamar Road is used by buses to ferry kids back and forth from school, and for this reason it’s the only road in the park kept open all year. If you can stand the cold, winter is a great time to see wolves in Yellowstone. There’s less natural cover, fewer crowds, and the dark wolves stand out against the snow.
We are going to Yellowstone to see the wolves next winter - stay tuned. I'll let you know if I survive the cold!
No Sleeping In on Wolf Watch!
For the best chance of wolf spotting prepare to get up early. These wolves are most active at dawn and dusk. Before starting off, check in with the rangers. They can suggest the days’ best the locations, perhaps a recent kill or a denning area.
Don’t forget to listen for their nighttime howls floating across the valleys – an unforgettable sound.
The Low Down: Grey Wolves
Sometimes Called: Grey wolves in North America are called by different names, some reflect sub-species or regional colloquialisms, they include: Timber wolf, great plains wolf, great lakes wolf, buffalo wolf, Rocky Mountain wolf and more. The wolves extirpated in 1926 were Northern Rocky Mountain wolves (Canis lupus irremotus). The grey wolf subspecies re-introduced are the smaller Mackenzie Valley wolves (Canis lupus occidentalis)
By the Numbers: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts the total wolf population in the U.S including Alaska at about 13,000, many conservation and wolf study organizations put the figure closer to 10,000 and anecdotal evidence puts that number considerably lower. Although protected in most U.S. states under the Endangered Species Act, they are hunted, legally and / or illegally, in their entire range including much of Canada (the Canadian population figures are higher.)
IUCN Red List: Least Concern
Identifying Features: This is the largest wolf species, coloring ranges from grey to white and black but it’s thought that the black color is a result of cross breeding with domestic dogs. A pure grey wolf always has yellow to amber eyes.
Where: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
When: September through June. In the hottest months wolves follow elk up to the highest (and coolest) peaks. Winter viewing is best December through February. The best viewing is in the Lamar Valley. The park sometimes offers wolf tours with a naturalist in spring and winter, however at this writing they seem to have been eliminated from their activities menu. There are also number of licensed local guides and organizations that provide in-park experience with wildlife biologists including Yellowstone Wolf Tracker from "The Wild Side, LLC"
Accommodation: Lodges and campsites are available both inside and outside the park. Staying inside gives you additional crowd-less evenings and night access to the wildlife. The park offers special packages including a winter “Trail of the Wolf” package. Plan well in advance, rooms are booked early for in-season visits.
Wildlife Bonus: Grizzly bear, black bear, bison, elk, moose, river otters, eagles, peregrine falcons, and sandhill cranes.
Fifth Stop: Florida, USA
Back From Gone
Red wolves were once found all over the southeastern United States. By 1980 all but the last fourteen individuals had been eradicated.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) caught and put these final remaining red wolves in a captive breeding program. In 1987 the red wolf was reintroduced into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, near the Outer Banks of North Carolina, becoming the first animal extinct in the wild to be successfully reestablished in the U.S.
But Soon - Gone Again
Their numbers peaked at 130 individuals in 2006; unfortunately, strong community pressure to eradicate them continues today.
In a two-month period in 2013, six animals were found shot and their tracking collars tampered with. The attacks never stopped. Unfortunately, the captive breeding and release program did stop. With it red wolf education and investigation into wolf mortality has also stopped. As of the beginning of 2016, there are only 45 red wolves left in the wild. See them now.
The wolves are elusive but you can learn about them and take a "howling tour, at the Alligator River National Refuge, on certain evenings from April through December, especially around the full moon, the visitor’s services will take guests on “howling tours”
Truly a Road Less Taken - U.S Park Service Style
For a totally different experience, go a little further south to Florida. Off its coast, on St. Vincent National Refuge, a 9-mile long 4-mile wide Gulf Coast barrier island, the USFWS established the critically endangered Red wolves to breed in the wild unmolested. Offspring are relocated to populate other Florida or South Carolina locations. Although the USFWS keeps the island’s red wolf population to a single breeding pair it’s a wonderful place to look for these remarkable animals and experience the wild and pristine paradise that was Florida prior to development. Hike or ride your bike (bring it on the ferry) over the island’s 80 miles of trails. Numerous wildlife-viewing stops are scattered along the way.
The Low Down: Red Wolves
Sometimes Called: Mississippi wolf, Florida wolf
By the Numbers: Approx. 50 wild, 200 in captive breeding programs
IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered
Identifying Features: Smaller than grey wolves, short red coat with dark markings on back and tail and white lip area. They lack the grey’s head “ruff” giving their ears a larger more pronounced appearance.
Where: St. Vincent National Refuge, Florida. Take a boat or kayak or the ferry from Indian point 22 miles south of Apalachicola.
When: October to May tours are offered.
Accommodation: Stay at one of the many historic inns or hotels on the mainland in Apalachicola.
Wildlife Bonus: Sea turtles, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, pygmy and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, colonial bats, alligators, and 240 species of birds. *Note: Take bug spray and use it.
Sixth Stop: Naujaat (formerly Repulse Bay),
(Canus Lupus Arctos)
Wolf of the Midnight Sun
A subspecies of the grey wolf, the Arctic wolf thrives at the top of the world, in a land of northern lights, midnight sun, and glaciers, where weather is extreme and barely predictable all year. But don’t be surprised when the native people turn this frigid land into your warmest experience.
Possibly The Coldest - and Warmest
Place You'll Ever Visit
Sitting exactly on the Arctic Circle, Naujaat, formerly Repulse Bay, is remote, pristine, and dedicated to its wildlife and cultural history. The community (pop. 748, 95% Inuit) voted this year to reinstate its Inuktitut name, Naujaat, which means, “place of the baby seagull,” and indeed this is the nesting place for seagulls as well as finches, geese, ducks, auks, plovers, owls, and many other bird species, some migrating from points thousands of miles south.
Access is by air and sea; there are no roads into Nanavut Territory which is where the town of Naujaat is located. Flights are available from Ottawa, Montreal, and Winnipeg as well as some other points in lower Canada. For help in planning your trip contact Bill and Carol Kennedy (see below) or the Nunavut Tourism Bureau, but remember although you may “plan,” the Arctic herself will decide your final itinerary. As the Canadian Parks department advises, “ … come prepared to accept the Arctic on its own terms, and it will open its heart to you.”
The Low Down: Arctic Wolves
Sometimes Called: Polar or white wolf
By the Numbers: The Arctic, a subspecies of the grey wolf, is listed as Least Endangered on the ICUN Red List, however there are thought to be only about 200 individuals considered “Arctic” wolves in the wild.
IUCN Red List: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Features: Small ears and muzzle and a two-layer coat, (inner for warmth, outer for water and snow proofing) well as fur on their paws for ice traction are subspecies adaptations
Where: Naujaat, (Repulse Bay), Nanavut, Canada
When: Late May to Mid August (Catch the mid-night sun June 4 – July 9)
Accommodation: The Arctic Circle Paws and Paddles Bed and Breakfast, in the cozy home of Bill and Carol Kennedy, has played host to photographers, documentary film crews, at least one children’s book writer, and of course, wildlife lovers from all over the world for almost a decade. Hot fresh breakfast is part of the accommodation; full meal plans are available as well as dog sled expeditions and kayaking for an additional charge. Stories from Bill, a volunteer firefighter who also acts as Justice of the Peace, and Carol, a teacher at the local school, are free.
Wildlife Bonus: Naujaat is famous for their polar bears, as well as caribou, wolverines, and lemmings. Don’t miss the marine mammals including bowhead whales and the narwhales! You’ll find walruses at nearby Coral Harbor and musk ox at Baker Lake.
Seventh Stop: Mexico
Mexican Grey Wolf
(Canis lupus bailyi)
Grey Wolf Subspecies
The Mexican grey wolf is the smallest and most endangered of all the grey wolf subspecies.
Their range was reduced to within the Sierra Madre Mountains and vicinity until reintroduced in southern New Mexico and Arizona. In 2014, their numbers were estimated at 109 individuals. They continue to be under pressure from legal and illegal hunting on both sides of the Mexican/U.S. boarder. The latest report, June 03, 2016, from the Fish and Wildlife Service puts the number at 97 Mexican grey wolves.
Fighting for Survival: A Loss and An Appeal
In 2015 New Mexico’s State Game Commission (comprised of lawyers, business people, and ranchers all of whom at this writing are sport hunters) rejected renewals of permits held for 17 years by Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch. This wolf-holding facility in Sierra County is considered by some conservationists, and even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to be a key to the federal re-release program. The ruling is being appealed.
A True U.S Wilderness
The great place for searching out Mexican grey wolves is Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. This remote and isolated area comprised of upland desert and broadleaf deciduous woodlands is mostly inaccessible to motorized vehicles and best viewed on foot or horseback.
Hiring a guide is highly recommended.
Native American, Joe Saenz, a Warm Springs Apache owns the Wolfhorse Outfitters guide service. Along with their signature horseback tours they also offer backpacking and fishing expeditions and native culture experiences and history. But give yourself a treat, relax, enjoy the peace of the Gila mountains and learn the true meaning of responsible wilderness trekking, with their 7-day hands on low/no impact seminar. Or, for those of you who want daytime exploration but nights in a warm bed, there are a number of inns ranging from luxurious to basic in or near the closest town, Silver City, driving distance from Wolfhorse Outfitters.
The Low Down: Mexican Grey Wolves
Sometimes Called: El Lobo
By the Numbers: There are estimated to be 97 Mexican grey wolves in the wild, about 300 in captivity.
IUCN Red List: Not individually assessed
Identifying Features: North America’s smallest grey wolf sub-species.
Where: Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
When: The USFWS recommends May - June or September - October. Sport hunting is allowed in Gila National Forest and Wilderness at certain times. We highly recommend coordinating with an area wildlife guide for best viewing times and safety.
Accommodation: Camping and RV hook-ups are available as well as a selection of hotels and inns ranging from full service spa luxury to basic lodges near the preserve or stay in a lodge or hotel in nearby Silver City.
Wildlife Bonus: Javelina, black bear, bobcat and mountain lion, big horn sheep, snakes, 260 bird species, and butterflies.
Last Stop: Brazil, The Cerrado
Their nick-name comes from their red coloring combined with extra long legs, especially useful for peeking over the tall grass of their Cerrado home, but their real name, maned wolf, is for the black strip of shaggy hair running from their head to shoulders. When they are annoyed, It stands on end, looking like a lion's mane.
These wolves are especially shy and delicate looking but tall, a meter at the shoulder.
They mate for life, but are mostly solitary. The pair only comes together during the April through June breeding season. They live in the tall grass savannah (Cerrado) and near the edges of forests in Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.
The Cerrado, Paradise
What do you call an eco-lodge run by a former wildlife trafficker-turned-protector of birds and animal? We call it the epitome of how responsible wildlife tourism can change our world. Wolf Valley Camp at the edge of Parnaiba Headwaters National Park with its sister lodge, Wolf Cliffs Camp, are collectively known as "The Wolf Camps". This is the very best place to see maned wolves - as well as other endangered species.
Disappearing Faster than the Rainforest
The Cerrado is a region of dry tropical forest in central Brazil whose biological diversity rivals the Amazon rainforest that forms part of its boarders. Unfortunately, with the equivalent rate of 2.5 soccer fields being destroyed for farming, mining etc. PER MINUTE, the Cerrado takes first prize, ahead of the rainforest, in the "quickly disappearing" contest. The Brazilian government designated its 770,000 sq. miles (2 million sq. km) area in 2002. But conservation biologist, Dr. Charles Munn's fight to save Brazil's unique wildlife and habitats began much sooner - in the mid 1980's. He supplied the inspiration and economic possibility (and raised the funds for the Wolf Camp's creation) that turned wildlife traffickers to "animal whisperers" as their guests have been known to call owner / manager Lourival Lima (Wolf Valley Camp) and manager, Mauro Oliviera (Wolf Cliff Camps).
When you go to see the maned wolf here you will be treated to the experience of witnessing the only tool using non-ape primate troop in the world hard at work. Dubbed "Einstein monkeys by scientists, this capuchin troop use logic and stone tools to get at their favorite nuts. Being up-close and personal with the strikingly beautiful and (IUCN Vulnerable) hyacinth macaw is another colorful bonus.
The Low Down: Maned Wolf
Sometimes Called: Fruit wolf and Fox-on-Stilts
By the Numbers: 13, 000 individuals estimated in 2008
IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
Identifying Features: Tall with long thin legs perfect for peeking over the tall grass of their preferred habitat, they are South America’s biggest wild canid. They have a fox’s delicate body structure and golden-red hair. Their diet is 60% fruit, especially the tomato-like lobeira fruit and 40% small prey including pacas, rabbits, small rodents, armadillos and even fish, reptiles, and insects.
Where: Parnaiba Headwaters National Park, Brazil, spanning the states of Bahia, Tocantins, Marahao, and Piaui.
When: Dry season - May through October
Accommodation: The Wolf Camps are the only accommodations inside the Parnaiba Headwaters National Park. The eco-lodges each have private bathrooms and showers and guests rave about the meals. They do not have air conditioning or a pool - but the amazing wildlife experience will not allow you time to notice. Relax and plan to spend time at both camps to really experience the Cerrado's unusual and wonderful wildlife.
Wildlife Bonus: 195 mammal species including: giant anteaters, giant or canastra armadillos, bearded capuchin monkeys (first documented non-ape primate tool users), tufted marmosets, black howler monkey, Brazilian guinea pigs, tapirs, a couple of different peccary species and the cats: ocelot and jaguarundi and possibly a rare jaguar. As well as 200 species of amphibians including rare and endangered tree frogs species.
Well, that's the first installment of our wolf life list for now. There are so many subspecies and destinations yet to explore...Iran, Italy, Canada.... Let us know which wolves you have seen so far - in the meantime we will get busy putting the second installment of our world-wide wolf watching adventure together!
Please Wolf Watch Responsibly!
Wolves are usually shy and rarely attack humans. However, they are wild animals – not dogs.
Be responsible, obey the rules of parks and common sense.
Keep a good distance from all wildlife, never feed, touch or encourage.
And never confuse a wild wolf with your four legged family members.
Enjoy your wolf trekking!
Keep in touch, we love to hear about your adventures!
Information & Stories
Arcana Mundi Expeditions
Awaze Ethiopian Tours,
KAR Photography (read our interview here),
The Snow Leopard Trust,
SouthWild Wolf Camps
for their enthusiasm, support, and use of their wonderful images.
And to Dr. Charles A. Munn
for his generous help with maned wolf and Parnaiba Headwaters National Park information.
"Trekking for Wolves: A Life List Adventure" was written and presented by Roberta Kravette for Destination: Wildlife. All rights reserved.