sticky bar

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!

John