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Algonquin Park Wolves. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdbsound/3968088234/">JDB Photos</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Algonquin Park Wolves. Photo: JDB Photos, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Howling for wolves

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The Eastern Timber Wolf lived across the eastern United States before humans virtually erased it from the landscape. But in some parts of Canada, the Eastern Wolf is alive and well. And every August for the past fifty years, people from all around the world have made the journey to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario to hear its howl. Reporter Natasha Haverty sends this postcard.

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Part of Highway 60, which runs through Algonquin Park. Photo: Natasha Haverty

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Chief naturalist Rick Stronks stands in Algonquin Park’s outdoor theater, in front of more than a thousand visitors who sit on wooden benches that funnel down towards the stage. The last rays of sun poke through the spruce forest, as more people continue to arrive.

All of these people have come here on the chance—not a promise—but the chance that tonight they may get to hear some wild wolves.

"Algonquin park really is this vast wilderness," Stronks says. "It’s rocks, lakes, trees, rivers. It’s huge." He says about 200 wolves—25 packs—live here in the park.

But a couple of factors make these peoples’ odds better than they might sound: The park naturalists know that five of those packs live right along a small highway that cuts through a corner of the park. They also know that August is when the adult wolves go off to hunt, leaving their pups alone for long stretches of time. "And the pups are eager, they're keen. They’re part of this pack. They got their voices. So often what happens is that when we howl, it’s the pups that first respond. And then the adults kick in and everybody just starts howling."

Fifty feet over the highway, the man who will be tonight’s lead howler hides at the edge of the forest, waiting. Of the 116 public howls the park’s had in 50 years, naturalist emeritus Ron Tozer has only missed ten. He sits on the ground, resting his elbows on his knees, and looks down at the mile-long line of people and cars.

"This the big time!" Tozer says. "This is like going to the world series or the super bowl. This is as good as it gets for a park interpreter."

The sky is bright tonight: thin clouds spread out the light of a first quarter moon. Across the road to the north is the abandoned beaver dam where naturalists know some wolf pups have been hanging out. People lean against their parked cars on the side of the road, waiting for Ron to begin. 

Ron howls alone three times, but there’s no answer. Then, another naturalist steps in and he and Ron howl together, imitating a pack. The answer comes, but it’s not from the beaver dam—the wolves are far away.

Ron and Dan scoot down the hill to call again from the highway. The wolves are on the move and we can barely hear their response this time. But none of the people make a sound; they’re just listening, even after the last howls disappear back into the night. 

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