The Great Wolf Debate


We stopped beside the road recently when we  saw an animal claimed to be a wolf, by all present including a one of the park staff who turned up at the scene. We posted our pictures and sent them out to everyone. To which Renee responded, that’s not a wolf, its a coy-wolf. Apparently some one she works with knows about coy-wolves and was dead certain that was one.

Well since then we’ve learned quite a lot about coy wolves. It’s odd, but the first significant problem is the science is pretty undefined, as to what a coy-wolf is. An eastern wolf however is  a known species, and they are known to dominate the interior of the park.  The definition of an Eastern Coyote, is that it’s a cross between a Western Coyote and an Eastern Wolf. So every  Eastern Coyote is going to have some Eastern Wolf characteristics, or they wouldn’t be Eastern Coyotes, they’d be Western Coyotes. I’m guessing that could make them hard to tell apart.

In the case of our specimen, it being a smallish animal and probably quite young, we can’t be sure what it will look like when it’s full grown. We estimated 40 pounds. The animal was looking for handouts. One of the photographers kept it’s attention by throwing stones towards it, it carefully came over and sniffed each one.

On the left is a picture of a Western Coyote, the western coyote is quite a bit smaller than the Eastern Wolf (Sometimes referred to as the Eastern Red Wolf ).  But they are smaller , 20-40 pounds. Click on image to get more information. For more info click on this link.   And another comparison here...  . This guy already looks like red wolf, he has A full winter coat so he looks heavier, but, not much to choose from in terms of looks. The Eastern coyote is half this guy and half Eastern Red wolf. The main difference is that the eastern coyote is bigger, as red wolves tend to be about 20 pounds heavier.

Here’s a picture of an Eastern Red  Wolf.

Without a few images to compare size I’m not sure how you would even make comparisons.  The thing is there is no suggested cut off to define where a  wolf becomes a coyote. How much coyote DNA can a wolf have and still be a wolf. IN some cases near us coyotes have stared to hunt in packs. That’s a wolf trait. And every eastern coyote is part eastern wolf, but not every wolf is part coyote.  So even the word coy-wolf is problematic.

So what are the park biologists saying?

The animal seems to have a pretty thin muzzle, but otherwise looks fairly typical for an eastern wolf.  In recent years there was one pair of coyote-like animals between Martin and Rock Lakes, and also some coyote DNA in the Bena lake pack that typically followed deer to Dwight in the winter. 

There is a lot of confusion over the canid identification.


Eastern Wolves can have some Coyote and/or Grey Wolf genetic material in them.


The Coyotes in Ontario are now considered Eastern Coyotes which, by definition, is a hybrid of Western Coyote and Eastern Wolf.  So any coyote is going to have some mix of wolf and coyote characteristics.


Without DNA testing, we can never be sure but there are some things we look at (size, width of skull, snout, length of body, colouration, etc.).

There are some great pictures here…could we get permission to use these in presentations?  If so, we love a copy and we have a form that you could sign.

So with that we leave it with you... is our animal a wolf, a coy-wolf (being aware that every eastern coyote is part eastern wolf) or a coyote. it’s a conundrum.

"Only a mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf." -Aldo Leopold 

On June 11, 2013 we met with the head Algonquin Park Naturalist regarding the Eastern Wolf we photographed the week previous. Rick Stronks was quite impressed with our photos and forwarded them to an Algonquin Park wolf researcher for comment.  The consensus is that it is an Eastern Wolf, and whether it has coyote DNA is an unknown, but possible due to a wolf pack in the area known to have coyote DNA. 

Rick also requested a set of our photos for his educational program which we were honoured to donate.

We learned some very interesting and upsetting things during our meeting yesterday. First, the park has been tracking this particular Eastern Wolf since Family Day weekend, February 2013 due to behavioural issues, i.e. no fear of humans and approaching humans.  This latest encounter, our encounter, means the wolf may have to be dispatched (killed) if park staff can get close enough to kill him. Apparently she recognizes Park vehicles and takes off right away. 

Rick explained than unlike habituated bears, which are not known to suddenly attack humans, wolves are the opposite. Habituated wolves are known to attack,  truly wild wolves do not. Habituated bears do not attack, where as truly wild and importantly, rogue, bears will.

Due to its history, Rick and his team fear that this particular wolf may bite someone and that will set the whole wolf education/preservation work back 50 years, sparking old unfounded fears.  We know this is probable as we watched a person with a cell phone camera almost reach out to pat the wolf.  

I knew when we stood on the highway photographing this amazing animal that she was in trouble. I knew death was probably in its future, either killed by a territorial wolf pack,  or hit by a car, or "dispatched" by park staff.  I think that is why I didn't jump up and down with joy over the encounter (as other photographers on the scene literally did).

These pictures have come with a heavy price. I will always cherish them. I thank the great spirit for such a gift and request that the Wolf finds safe passage to the other side.

teresa (tess) 

I like to think the wolf is  part of a pack and that it just comes over to the highway for some junk food every now and then. Why does everyone have to be so morbid?