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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Skoki and the Kananaskis Wolves

Two years ago when I first started following the new Pipestone (now Bow Valley) wolf family in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to name one of the pack members.  Independent wolf researcher Gunther Bloch named the leading male and female and two of the six-month old pups, but he left the naming of one of the young pups, a shy black male, to me.  I tried out a few names, but kept coming back to the same one over and over again, and so the shy black male became known as Skoki.

For those first few months Skoki proved to be elusive in front of my camera.  He would quickly dart into the woods whenever my vehicle approached, or he'd stay hidden in the trees until dusk if I was staked out waiting for the wolves.

In December 2009, Skoki was captured by a Parks Canada research team hoping to monitor the wolf family to determine how much time they spent in mountain caribou terrain in the northern part of Banff National Park.  After the invasive, but necessary, experience, Skoki emerged an even more elusive wolf sporting some fancy new jewellery, a big white gps satellite radio collar.

Despite more than 60 days in the field in the winter and spring of 2010, I wasn't able to get any good pictures of the wolf I had named.

One day in October, I chanced upon Skoki walking along a road by himself less than fifty metres from my vehicle.  But in the split second that it took me to grab my big lens and put it on my window sill, he was gone.  So close, and yet so far away!

Finally, in late November of 2010, I managed to get an 'ok' ('ok' meaning 'low-light-I'll-take-what-I-can-get-YIPPEE-got-a-shot-of-Skoki-FINALLY!!') photo of the now nineteen month-old collared wolf.

Skoki, a gps-collared male wolf now living in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

In December 2010, Skoki made news in wolf circles around here when he went 'missing'.  At first the fact he was not with his usual wolf family wasn't big news, as Gunther, myself, and the parks researchers thought that he'd gone for "one of his walks" and that he'd rejoin the pack in due time.  However, as weeks became a month with no sightings and no way to download his collar, Parks Canada began casting a wider and wider net trying to figure out where Skoki had gone.

The big break came last Tuesday, January 25th when I was down in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park with a film crew from Bragg About the Creek TV.  While driving the Smith-Dorrien Road late that evening, the film crew and I came across several sets of fresh wolf tracks moving up and down the road.  Peter Lougheed has not had a regular, established wolf family for years now, so I immediately alerted Parks researchers to my find.  The next day, I got a jubilant email from one of the researchers notifying me that Skoki had been found!  The researcher had driven down the area where I'd seen the tracks and had almost immediately picked up Skoki's signal from the collar.

The day after that, on Thursday, January 27th, researchers were able to successfully download his collar, giving us a glimpse into where he'd travelled since he dispersed from the Bow Valley pack.  From the data, researchers were able to determine that Skoki left the Bow Valley on December 15th (shortly after Gunther and I saw him for the last time on the 13th), made his way past the Town of Banff and up the Goat Creek trail to the Smith-Dorrien Road, then set up shop in the heart of Kananaskis Country in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

And better yet?  It appears he's found at least one other wolf to hang out with already.  Everyone is now hoping that the companion wolf is a female and that they're able to re-establish a Kananaskis wolf family in the park.  The area is full of ungulates and other game, so I'm hoping that Skoki will be successful and that our paths will cross again one day soon!

Happy shooting!



  1. Amazing John... I drive that road all the time with my "big lens", or sometimes just for the drive with my family. Hope we run into him and his friend some time. Thanks for the update!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, John. What a great-news story.

  3. Thanks for the great story John. I really enjoy the wildlife stories in addition to the great photography. Hope to see you on the 18th in Calgary.
    Mike Kapiczowski

  4. Fantastic news John. Thanks for sharing an excellent recount of the events. Here's hoping the Kananaskis pack takes hold.

  5. Excellent good news story, John. You continue to captivate your readers with your 'long lens and tall tales'. Keep them coming as you have and can make the time to keep us informed of your exciting encounters with your friends in the wild.

  6. wow what a great story I am hoping for the best for Skoki and how awesome is it that you got to name him

  7. Hiya John, great story and thanks for the tip I will have to
    keep an eye peeled for Skoki next time I'm on SmithDorian
    Hope things are going great for you, will hopefully bump
    into some time this summer.

  8. Great story, please keep us up to date with regard to Skoki, hope all goes well for him.

  9. I live in Kananaskis, near the golf course and actually saw Skoki and his friend around 9am yesterday morning, travelling across the highway 40 near the water treatment road. They did not seem bothered by me or my car, I waited a minute or two to see them duck into the trees!

  10. Thank you so much for those wonderful pictures! I really enjoy browsing your Website and I´m already looking forward to read more about the Bow Valley Wolves in this Blog! I hope that everything will work out fine for Skoki.

  11. Saturday July 23 at 10:30pm we saw two huge black wolves at the side of highway 40 just north of elbow pass parking lot. One of them lingered in the beam of my headlights before loping across the highway and into the trees. It was a thrilling sight! My brother and nephew from Florida were awestruck!

  12. My family and were amazed at the sight of two large black wolves right along the side of highway 40 just as we were getting to Nakiska at 8:20 this morning! We have never seen a wolf before!

  13. As I drove home along Hwy 40 at 2:30 this afternoon I followed a black wolf in my car as he trotted about 10 or so feet in amongst the trees. I could not see if he was wearing a GPS collar. A very handsome specimen with a glossy coat.