The Eastern Wolf
Common name: Eastern Wolf / Algonquin Wolf
Latin name: Canis lycaon
Status under SARA: Special Concern,
2015 COSEWIC assessment: Threatened
Range: Historical range encompassed forested regions of eastern North America. Current range limited to areas of south-central Ontario and south-central Quebec.
Life span: typically 6 to 8 years
Size: Females weigh an average of24 kg and are 110 cm in length, while males weigh an average of 30 kg and are 113cm in length
Population estimate: Less than 1000 mature individuals (estimated)
The Eastern Wolf is an intermediate-sized canid, slightly smaller in size and stature than the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). While similar in appearance to the Eastern Coyote (Canis latrans), they typically possess a wider muzzle, smaller ears and larger feet. The coat is variable, but is typically reddish-brown to tawny colour.
Once considered a subspecies of the Grey Wolf, recent genetic analyzes has supported the Eastern Wolf as a distinct species. However, due to a complex history of hybridization among species of Canis in North America, the taxonomy of the Eastern Wolf remains controversial.
The range of the Eastern Wolf is centered in Algonquin Provincial Park and surrounding townships in Ontario and Quebec. Most records of the wolf exist within protected areas where mortality and rates of hybridization are less frequent. Multiple occurrences have also been identified in Killarney Provincial Park, Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands, and Kawartha-Highlands Provincial Park in Ontario, and in Quebec they have been spotted in the Papineau-Labelle Wildlife Reserve.
Eastern Wolves are commonly found in dense forested areas south of the Boreal Forest Region where population sizes are limited in part by the availability of prey such as white-tailed deer, moose and beaver.
Eastern Wolves live in packs composed of a breeding pair and related offspring from multiple breeding years. Females give birth to a litter in late April to early May, and remain at a den site during this time.
The Eastern Wolf once had a wide range encompassing the temperate forests of eastern North America, but habitat alteration and disturbance by European settlers caused the species to decline and retract to its current distribution. This decline was accelerated by hybridization and competition with coyotes which were more successful in the open habitats, a result from land clearing for agriculture. Thus, the current Eastern Wolf population represents a small remnant population of a species that was once more widespread and prevalent.
While there is no evidence of population decline or range contraction within the last 20 years, the species is vulnerable threats due to a small population size and a limited range. Furthermore, as the Eastern Wolf appears to be successful primarily within densely forested protected areas, and seems to have limited ability to expand into more modified adjacent areas, the species survival is dependent on successful evidence-based management within these protected zones.
As hybridization between species of Canis yields fertile offspring, a very complex genetic relationship exists between Grey Wolves, Eastern Wolves and Coyotes. This has relevance to the species’ conservation, as the Eastern Wolf may be experiencing reductions in genetic diversity through hybridization with Coyotes. In other words, hybridization with coyote threatens the genetic identity of the species.
The Eastern Wolf is also threatened by hunting, trapping and poaching. Trapping represents a large source of direct mortality, and can also have indirect effects to the social structure of the pack. These impacts also increase the likelihood of hybridization with Coyotes. While hunting and trapping is prohibited in many of the protected areas in which the Eastern Wolf reside, trapping is still permitted in some areas like French River Park, and harvesting in some lands adjacent to protected area or incidental take may still occur. A small game license is required to hunt wolves in Quebec and Ontario.
What is being done
The Eastern Wolf is currently listed under SARA as Special Concern. However, as the species was assessed as Threatened by COSEWIC in 2015, it is eligible to be added to Schedule 1 of SARA, a move which has been proposed for 2018.
In late 2017, a federal management plan for Eastern Wolf was proposed, which is currently under review. The objective of this plan is to maintain a viable Eastern Wolf population with the species’ current Canadian range.
The Eastern Wolf is designated as Threatened under the Ontario Species at Risk Act. The Committee on the Status of Spices at Risk in Ontario has recommended that Algonquin Wolf is the most appropriate name for the species. A provincial recovery strategy for the species is currently under development.
A large swath of population studies and ecological research on the species is currently being undertaken. For a detailed description of these initiatives, see the proposed federal management plan.
The species has not yet been recognized as a distinct species by the government of Quebec.
What you can do
- Support environmental organizations that work to protect wildlife habitats
- Send a letter to the Environment Minister demanding stronger measures to protect the Eastern Wolf.
- Write to your provincial government to indicate your support of prohibitions on wolf hunting and broader protection of the species under provincial legislation.
- Visit one of the beautiful protected areas in Ontario or Quebec in which the Eastern Wolf inhabits. Get a chance to see this beautiful species first-hand.
- Spread the word.