Re-posted with permission from the author: On-TheEdge Steve Meurett-Writing with Light
TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2016
Medicine of the Wolf
Yes, I borrowed the title from filmmaker Julia Hoffman’s recent film chronicling this large carnivore and the misunderstandings surrounding them. It was happenstance that I happened to watch the film February 23rd, my birthday, the same day these central forest region animals made an appearance.
The film predominately features interviews with renown photographer Jim Brandenburg from Ely Minnesota. Brandenburg is one of my favorite photographers and his work has captured wolves from across North America, particularly ones near his home in the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. The narrative from Brandenburg follows his fascination of the animal, beginning with extensive study and photographing in Ellesmere Island in northern Canada to the distressing results of the wolf hunt in northern Minnesota . The latter having a profound effect on him personally as the result of the local pack left in disarray after the killing of the alpha male and poaching.
The film has been greatly supported by wolf advocates as a banner to their cause. I’m sure wolf haters thoroughly dismiss it. The “Big Bad Wolf” side of the story is one most of us have grown up with and for what ever reason, those feelings persist-unfounded in reality. Hoffman delves into the other side-looking at the relationships between man and wolves and the complex social life the animal has.
A month or so ago I’d found a dead whitetail, it was frozen solid, partially buried in snow, cause of death unknown. It was a small yearling doe and few forest creatures had discovered her yet. She would not go to waste. This presented an opportunity. The county and state forests here have many carnivores, animals I’m keenly interested in and more so since starting my work in the Ho-Chunk Nation DNR. I’d been busy this winter doing tracking surveys (as a volunteer) for fox, coyote, bobcat, fisher and of course wolves. A well placed camera trap nearby could possibly capture some images of these fascinating animals.
While coyotes are more than numerous, and bobcats and fishers are not uncommon, it’s very difficult to actually see one in the wild. I can count on one hand the number of cats I’ve ever encountered, yet sign indicates they are around. Wolves are just as difficult to get pictures of and I’d hoped to maybe get images of ones that I’d tracked the past few years. (note: the Wisconsin central forest region consists of roughly 7000 square miles in more than seven counties, and is as detailed a location I’ll share, for obvious reasons). Although I’m not actually pressing a shutter, as a photographer, I still love capturing and looking at pictures, and these could be fantastic subjects if I were lucky.
Being in a rather open area of timber slash, the first visitors were unsurprisingly crows and ravens. I was a little taken aback by the size difference between the two species, but not of the numbers within the murder when they were there.
Other airborne patrons discovered the carcass as well- numerous Bald Eagles and even a rare (to me) Golden Eagle. I’d been aware that golden’s pass through this area but apparently this one lingered for “he” would visit the site daily. I’ve told people I never quite get tired of seeing eagles, actually raptors of any kind and some of the images that follow were thrilling.
As appealing as the bird shots are, and there were hundreds, I was still most interested in carnivores, and it did take some days for them to appear. I’d expected them sooner, although the camera was apparently missing some of the action for during the sequence of images, portions of the deer would be whittled away or moved with no visible culprits.
Canis latrans, Marking “His” kill?
Considering the number of coyotes that I record on tracking surveys, I was a bit surprised at how few actually wandered into the site. One here and there, maybe two, just once, but I suspect they were responsible for the rapid decline of most of the yearling. Disappointingly, no bobcats, fishers or wolves ventured in. I continued to return for camera checks, but quickly the scavengers had reduced the whitetail down to a spine and skull, hide and a couple legs-it was efficiently picked clean.
I returned one last time to possibly remove the camera. I was confident there would be little left to attract repeat customers. Not surprisingly, everything was gone. My first thought was that something large must have consumed the remaining scraps. No tracks indicated that however, in the melting snow. Surveying the area, drag marks into the brush disclosed the remains had been moved. It’s common for the entire animal to be consumed, nothing is wasted- bones, hide and all. Since there was something left, I moved it back to the camera and reset everything for one last try.
The wolf is neither man’s competitor nor his enemy. He is a fellow creature with whom the earth must be shared. L. David Mech
I’d be naive to think most people agree with this view by Mech, especially in the state and area I live. I do, however. Unfortunately, the mentality observed here still remains locked on Little Red Riding Hood or poor (or selfish) assumptions of barstool biologists. That said, I continue to want to understand the species and their complex social structure, which is quite unlike any other large carnivore. Study and observation is required and this opportunity to capture images can only enhance that-for me anyway.
So finally they made an appearance. The SD card had been slipped into the computer and quickly visually astonishing pictures appeared on the screen. No, these were not coyotes, not these animals cautiously appearing in front of the camera. Displaying particular behavior and posturing began to tell their story. Author and wolf biologist Dick Thiel noted nuances in the animals when I shared the pictures which identified them as most likely a breeding pair and a subordinate younger animal. My less educated eye had not deciphered those same clues when I’d first viewed the photographs. Perhaps I was just happy at first to have the quarry in front of the lens.
A mere 24 hours after I’d visited the site the wolves wandered in. Surely, deer scent had not escaped their curiosity and being that it had been a mild winter, a possible free meal would be welcome. As Thiel pointed out, the progression of images displayed a cautious younger wolf, a similarly colored confident animal and a larger light hued thick coated alpha female. In my opinion, beautiful animals. The pictures were not as clear as I’d hoped, but they finally were the evidence I’d anticipated at some point-one gets tired just looking at prints in snow and sand. [Click HERE to view all the trail cam photographs and to read the full blog]