Ontario's iconic but "hidden" Algonquin wolf

November 8, 2022
Rebecca Kolarich

Ontario species spotlight: the Algonquin wolf

Ontario is home to the Eastern coyote, the Grey wolf, and the “hidden” Algonquin wolf. In 2016, Algonquin wolves were classified as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO). Algonquin wolves are only found in central Ontario, southwestern Quebec, and southern areas of northeastern Ontario and northwestern Ontario. 65% of the population is found in Ontario. Unfortunately, with fewer than 500 Algonquin wolves left in Ontario, the species faces an uncertain future.

What do they look like?

The Algonquin wolf is a member of the canine family. The species resulted from the hybridization between the Grey wolf and Eastern coyote many years ago. They are smaller than the Grey wolf but slightly larger than the Eastern coyote. An adult male Algonquin wolf can grow up to 65 pounds, whereas an adult female will reach approximately 50 pounds. The Algonquin wolf is almost physically identical to the Eastern coyote and the two are almost always mistaken for one another. Unfortunately, many Algonquin wolves are hunted because they look so much like coyotes. Algonquin wolves and Eastern coyotes can only really be differentiated through DNA analysis.

The Algonquin wolf

What threatens them?

The primary threats to the Algonquin wolf are human caused mortality, such as hunting and trapping. Ontario’s Endangered Species Act prohibits harming or killing threatened species. However, Algonquin wolves are exempt from this rule and can be legally shot and trapped in many parts of Ontario. The wolves have protection within a few areas of their range, such as Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, and Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park, but these isolated areas of land are not enough. The wolves are known to travel into unprotected corridors, and when they do, they rarely survive.

What we're doing to help

Earthroots launched the Ontario Wolf Survey project in 2016 to help fill in gaps in the survey effort across Ontario. Our citizen scientist volunteers collect DNA scat samples from large coyotes and wolves throughout high priority areas in the province. We deliver these samples to Trent University to be profiled to species, (Algonquin wolf, Eastern coyote, or Grey wolf), to determine if and where Algonquin wolves are found outside of their protected range.

With the campaign’s first five years of steadfast intensive campaigning, unhindered wolf hunting final came to an end. Prior to these developments in 2005, Ontario had been recognized as one of the top three worst jurisdictions in the world for wolf protection. Our accomplishments included:

  • Doubling the size of Algonquin Provincial Park’s protected area for wolves (and coyotes), up to 14,000km2.
  • A closed season (seasonal trapping/hunting ban) across wolf range to protect juvenile pups.
  • Restricted trophy hunting (2 wolf and/or coyote per hunter per year), large fees for non-residents and reporting requirements to help track the number of wolves and coyotes killed in both species’ ranges.
  • First ever provincial Wolf Conservation Strategy which acknowledged their ecological and inherent value.

Collectively, these data will help inform the species’ Recovery Strategy. With this project, we hope to build a strong case as to why and where Algonquin wolves need greater protection, whether it is newly enforced hunting bans or the expansion of protected areas. We are dedicated to changing the way the province looks at wolves, increasing their protection and seeing populations thrive across Ontario.

Searching for scat samples along wolf tracks | Earthroots

Click here to support our citizen science wolf survey

Header photo by Christina Emond, one of our citizen scientists

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