New book looks at lives of wolves

I couldn’t be more pleased to do a post on a new book called the ‘The Pipestone Wolves’ by wolf behaviorist Gunther Bloch and with the photography of my favorite wolf photographers John E Marriott.  ~Rachel

Source: Rocky Mountain Outlook 
Thursday, Aug 04, 2016 

By: Cathy Ellis

A new book about the rise and fall of a wolf pack in the Bow Valley could not be any timelier.

The Pipestone Wolves: The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family, written by wolf behaviour expert Gunther Bloch with stunning photos by Canmore photographer John E. Marriott, predicts wolves in the busy and developed valley will always be in trouble.

The demise of the Pipestone pack is now being somewhat relived with the ongoing deaths of the newest wolf pack to take up residence in the Bow Valley, which has seen several members killed on the train tracks since June.

Not only that, this newest wolf pack has also gotten into food and garbage left by irresponsible campers, perhaps even fed by visitors, leading to the bold alpha female being destroyed by Parks Canada over concerns her food conditioning could pose a risk to public safety.

“Everything that’s happening now, Gunther in this book predicted would happen. Forever onwards, this is the lives of wolves here,” said Marriott.

“I would say right now it’s perilous for the wolves that are here now. They are literally right on the edge.”

The Rise and Fall of a Wolf Family, published by Rocky Mountain Books, tells the story of the Pipestone wolves, a wolf family from the Pipestone Valley that suddenly appeared in the Bow Valley in the winter of 2008-09.

The new pack took up residence alongside a family that had ruled there for more than a decade and, within a year, the new wolves had eliminated the old pack and established a dominance that would last for five years.

The eventual demise of this pack was likely due to a number of reasons, including, among other things, the old age of the breeding pair, extremely high mortality on the roads and railway and a lack of prey.

Wolves are prolific breeders and are known to continuously repopulate an area over time, but Marriott said the ongoing demise of wolf packs in Banff National Park is more of an ethical issue.

“One of the key tenets of the National Parks Act is ecological integrity and you’re not maintaining the ecological integrity of Banff National Park by spin wheeling through various wolf families,” Marriott said.

“If every two years we have new wolves come in here, and then every year having two, three or four, or five or six wolves die on the roads and railway, there’s something very wrong with that.”

Bloch, who studied the behaviour of wolves for 20 years in Banff, and Marriott, who has a passion for wolves, followed the Pipestones through the trials and tribulations of raising a family in one of the world’s most heavily visited national parks.

Bloch’s work involved patient, time-consuming observations day after day, leading him to discover wolf behaviour insights that go beyond the information that comes from studying wild wolves using telemetry and collars.

He outlines the differences between a wolf pack and a wolf family, describes A- and B-type personalities in wolves and how this affected survival rates of the Pipestone pups and yearlings.

Based on what he was able to observe in person with these wild wolves, he details three societal types of wolves, which he says debunks the age-old myth of a pecking order from alphas to omegas.

Mike Gibeau, Parks Canada’s former carnivore specialist, wrote the forward for the book.

“Many biologists have either forgotten about, or never considered using direct observation to gather data, opting instead for the ‘collar and foller’ approach to scientific inquiry,” wrote Gibeau.

“It is refreshing, then, that this book is all about that underrated and underappreciated skill of direct observation.”

Bloch and Marriott finish the book with suggestions on steps they believe Parks Canada should take to deal with the pressure on wildlife given the rising number of visitors to the park – now at about 3.8 million a year.

“We’re loving the park to death. I think there’s things that have to change,” Marriott said.

“This is just being reinforced 10 times this summer, with not only what’s going on with the current wolves, but just with the amount of visitation.”

For Marriott, he’s decided to take a different approach to his wildlife photography business, not wanting to add to the pressure put on the park’s wolves and bears.

“If I’m going to walk the walk of being a professional wildlife photographer living in a place where wildlife is precariously on the edge so much, then I can’t be one of the ones that’s out there 24-7 continuously following the same wolf or the same bear,” he said.

“I mix it up and I mix it up a lot. We don’t have to be out there every single day and following them. Ethically I think that’s the way it has to go.”

Marriott has a book launch at Café Books in Canmore from 7-9 p.m. on Aug. 8, which includes a book signing and slide show, followed by a signing only at the Viewpoint in Banff the following evening on Aug. 9 from 7-9 p.m.

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