Gray Wolf

The gray wolf is the largest wild member of the canid family, and the largest known specimens have come from northwestern North America.

The gray wolf looks similar to a German Shepard dog, but with longer fur, a bushier trail and proportionately longer legs and larger feet. In British Columbia, most are in the range of 35 to 50kg. The typical colour is a white brindled mix of light grey or that with brown, black or white fur.

Wolves pursue prey with high endurance; they are able to run for many kilometers to catch a prey. They can attain speeds of 55 to 70 km per hour. Wolves are highly intelligent, and have particularly keen senses of vision, smell, and hearing.

Economic consideration

The public awareness of wolves has been mainly negative over much of human history because of predatory attacks on humans. But on this continent, the primary conflict between humans and wolves has revolved around predation of livestock and wild ungulates. Most livestock predation is on cattle, particularly calves and horses, and sheep are also killed. Wolf predation on wild ungulates such as moose, elk, caribou, deer, and mountain sheep has been the subject of many studies.

Wolves are very effective and efficient predators. To control wolves on a large scale, British Columbia included bounty programs in the mid -1950s. The wolf control programs have been relatively local in nature since then. Programs focus on specific problem packs in livestock areas and work to protect and recover species at risk. Managers are experimenting with alternative methods such as snares and sterilization of dominant animals to reduce wolf numbers. That first experiment started in areas in the Yukon and Alaska.

The pelts of wolves are very heavy and woolly. They are sometimes used in the fur trade for trim on parkas or full length coats. But wolf pelts contribute less than 1.5 percent of British Columbia’s total fur revenue in all years since 1980.


Distribution and habitat

Wolves occur in virtually every kind of habitat available in the northern hemisphere, from open prairie to the coastal rainforest up to high arctic. Wolves are heavy and have large feet so they don’t readily sink in deep or powdery snow.

Currently, the wolf ranges throughout most of British Columbia. After many years of absence or very low densities, wolves began to come up again in Vancouver Island during the 1970s and now they are over most of the island and also on many islands along the mainland coast. They have never been present on the Queen Charlotte Islands.


Wolves are dominant carnivores, eating the full range of available local prey. During the snow-free season, they often travel alone and hunt a variety of smaller species like voles and ground squirrels to young ungulates. In winter time the wolves hunt cooperatively in packs, often moose and caribou in the north and elk or deer in the south. There are also packs who prey on other species, such as mountain sheep, mountain goats or salmon.

Social behavior

Wolves normally live in groupings knowns as packs that are usually family-based, consisting of a pair of adults and their offspring of various ages. Sometimes, the size of some packs can be more than 30 wolves. When there is not enough food, lower ranking members do not eat and eventually leave the pack and forage for themselves separately.

Wolves are territorial, conducting all of their activities in well-defined home range areas. These territories are scent-marked with urine, feces and gland secretions. Territory size varies widely, but can be 10,000km2 or more.

Howling announces the presence and location of a pack and is also used to assemble pack members.


Wolves breed in late winter, usually February or March, and the pups are born in April or May after a 63-day gestation period. Litter sizes are usually four to seven pups. Females are sexually mature at two years and they begin breeding at age three.

Pups are blind and helpless at birth and weigh about 500g. Their eyes open at about two weeks and then they begin to explore areas outside the underground dens. Wolves are relatively short lived animals for their size, living up to 10 years in the wild on average.


The future of wolves in the province appears to be secure, assuming that management plans and the public are able to maintain or enhance prey populations and their habitats. The goals in most cases will be to keep numbers low enough so that conflict situations with humans are minimized, prey species at risk are protected, the risk of widespread disease outbreaks is reduced, and the pressure on local prey or other animals is not excessive.

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