CORNER BROOK — John Blake thinks the large canine print photographed in western Newfoundland last week is most likely a coyote and not a wolf.
Blake, who is director of wildlife with the Department of Environment and Conservation, has a lot of experience in his career pursuing coyotes and collaring wolves.
While he cannot be 100 per cent certain if the track photographed by Andy Sweetland of Corner Brook is a coyote or a wolf, Blake did rule out it belonging to a dog. The tracks of domesticated dogs are much more circular than the oval-shaped image of the track captured by Sweetland.
Besides the inherent difficulty of having only a photograph to go on and only Sweetland's hand to estimate its size, Blake said the fact the track was in mud — as Sweetland had indicated — is also an important clue.
"Anytime you make a track in something of a loose substrate like that — wet soil, mud or snow, it can be expanded significantly," Blake said. "I have seen many, many coyote tracks that look like wolf tracks. Wolf and coyote tracks are almost identical, except for size ... If I saw that track in the wild, I would certainly question whether it was a large coyote, but I wouldn't automatically think it was a wolf."
A coyote track would normally be between 2.5 and 2.75 inches wide, said Blake, while a wolf track — depending on its age and sex — would be in the range of 2.5 to four inches wide.
Sweetland took the photo on Lady Slipper Road west of Corner Brook last Thursday. He said he saw a similar large canine print in roughly the same area in early spring.
One confirmed kill
Other than a confirmed wolf kill in Spillars Cove on the Bonavista Peninsula this past March, Blake said there have not been any other reports of possible wolf sightings in Newfoundland. Still, he suspects the Bonavista wolf may generate further possible sightings, whether believable or not.
"I think we may get more reports, but whether that is a function of animals actually being here or people being more sensitive to the issue given one has been shot here is going to be hard to tell," said Blake.
The wolf shot by a hunter in Bonavista has been shown to be a grey wolf from Labrador, but that doesn't necessarily mean it traversed the island of Newfoundland to get to that easterly locale. Just as polar bears sometimes do, Blake said this wolf could have arrived in eastern Newfoundland on an ice floe from further north in Labrador, as opposed to having crossed the Strait of Belle Isle and then Newfoundland.
According to Blake, wolves tend to stay away from the moving ice typically found in the Strait of Belle Isle and are more prone to wander out onto the more stable ice along the northern Labrador coast.
"Farther north where the ice is more stable, a wolf could get caught on an ice floe and, sometimes, these ice floes end up coming all the way down to the Avalon (Peninsula)," said Blake.