A day in the life of a wild Minnesota wolf

A close up image of a wolf.
This May 2020 photo provided by the Voyageurs Wolf Project shows a wolf just south of Voyageurs National Park, Minn. Voyageurs Wolf Project scientists have released what they believe is a first-ever video showing an entire day in the life of a wild wolf, shot from the wolf’s perspective.
Tom Gable | Voyageurs Wolf Project via AP

Scientists studying wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park have released what they believe is a first-ever video showing an entire day in the life of a wild wolf, shot from the wolf’s perspective.

The 25-minute video from the Voyageurs Wolf Project is filmed using a remote camera attached to a GPS research collar placed on a lone male wolf, dubbed Wolf O2L. It shows everything the wolf did at five-minute intervals over the course of one day last June in northwestern Minnesota, south of Lake of the Woods.

It features several minutes of footage of the wolf traveling long distances — through fields, forests and agricultural land; lots of sleeping — it was 91 degrees that day, after all. And there’s some eating — the video shows the wolf preying on a deer fawn.

This is just the latest novel video released by the Voyageurs Wolf Project. It’s a collaboration between the national park and the University of Minnesota that began in 2015 that seeks to better understand the heretofore hidden lives of wolves in the summer.

By placing GPS collars on wolves transmitting their precise location every 20 minutes, researchers have been able to document lupine predation habits at a fine scale. This has resulted in some surprising findings, for example that wolves stealthily ambush beaver, gorge on blueberries, and even fish in area streams.

More recently, scientists have added another piece of technology to their arsenal. They’ve attached collars outfitted with Go Pro cameras to two wolves each summer.

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In 2020 the technology worked well, said Tom Gable, who leads the Voyageurs Wolf Project. But the wolves’ fur obscured much of the footage.

So when they attached the collars to two more wolves in 2021, they first gave each wolf a trim around the collar. They also adjusted the settings to take 20-second videos at five-minute intervals during all daylight hours, so they could capture more predation behavior. Wolves typically will go from three to five days between kills.

Gable hopes the collar cameras will become an increasingly powerful tool to capture wolf predation behavior, which is extremely difficult to observe during the summertime.

But they also contribute to the project’s other primary goal—to educate the public about wolves. The project’s videos shared on social media have reached tens of thousands of viewers.

“We can type out long paragraphs about wolves preying on beavers, or eating deer fawns or running, but it just isn't as powerful as someone observing it themselves,” Gable said.

“One of the goals of our project is to share what is the life of a wolf really like, and what better way than just to show literally the footage of an entire day as a wolf.”

The collars are programmed to drop off after a month. After this day’s footage was captured, Wolf O2L traveled across the Canadian border, and its collar fell off on the east side of Lake of the Woods.

But since this was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gable wasn’t able to cross the border to retrieve it.

Gable tracked down the owners of a nearby bed and breakfast, who agreed to pick up the collar, using its GPS coordinates.

“It’s one of those neat stories of how the pandemic altered things, and how you can overcome that through people just being super friendly and helpful,” Gable said.

This year Gable plans to attach the camera collars to two more wolves. He said he’s interested in placing them on pack animals this summer, to observe how they interact with other pack members or their pups.

And he said ideally, the cameras would capture footage of a wolf killing a beaver, to contribute to his ongoing research studying wolves’ summertime predation habits. That would “hit the jackpot,” Gable said.