Researchers in far northern Minnesota are concerned about a young wolf south of Voyageurs National Park that's been seen several times along a roadside, displaying little to no fear of people.
Scientists with the Voyageurs Wolf Project posted photos of the wolf on their Facebook page Tuesday, asking the public to share details about their encounters with the wolf and imploring people to leave it alone.
Two members of the project on separate occasions saw the wolf chasing and eating grasshoppers just outside of Ash River, a resort community south of the park.
Several others have also reported seeing the wolf, including many who tried unsuccessfully to scare it off the road and into the forest.
“The wolf seemed to be totally unconcerned about people being around,” said Tom Gable, who leads the Voyageurs Wolf Project, which studies the predation habits of wolves in and around the park.
The wolf is not acting aggressively toward people, Gable said. But its indifference toward people over a period of several days is unusual.
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“Oftentimes, you might get a really brief glimpse of a wolf crossing a road,” Gable said. “But to have a wolf just on the side of the road, for hours and hours, that dozens and dozens of people have been able to observe, photograph, video, is just really odd.”
For perspective, Gable said, he and other researchers have spent eight years in the field with wolves, fitting them with GPS collars, visiting sites where they eat their prey.
“And we've never had an experience in the woods that's even remotely like this where the animals just spend, hanging out, unconcerned with us, didn't seem to care. I mean, it just never happens in the field.”
Gable guesses the wolf is a yearling, although he said there’s a chance it could be a large pup born earlier this year.
He declined to speculate on why the wolf is behaving so strangely. Gable said without knowing the wolf’s backstory — whether it’s from a pack in the area, for example, or is a lone wolf from outside the region — it’s impossible to make an assessment with any confidence.
Gable’s fear is that someone could shoot the wolf, or that people will feed it, thinking that it looks thin, and hungry. He said all wolves are hungry this time of year, trying to survive until hunting success improves in the fall and winter.
“We don't want the animal getting used to vehicles pulling up and throwing food out a window. We don't want wolves to have associations between people and food.”
Gable said there have been recent instances where wolves have displayed unusual behavior for a short amount of time — chasing snowmobiles, for example — and then suddenly, those reports stopped.
That’s the outcome he hopes for this time as well.
“The hope is that people will leave the animal alone, for some weird reason it was spending time on the road, and then eventually it just goes back in the woods and is able to live a normal sort of wolf life.”