Friday, October 24, 2008

Scrawny Wolf, Mangy Coyote or Ferrel Dog?

My wife & I spent the Thanksgiving weekend in and around Prince Albert National Park, staying at Elkridge Resort (but that's another story). On Sunday, while driving the scenic route south of Waskesiu on our way to the Spruce River Highlands hiking trail, we saw this sorry creature loping down the road.
I was certain at first that it was a wolf, albeit a young and scrawny one. Despite our approaching vehicle, it remained on the road, paying little heed to us as it casually trotted or walked down the center of the road. Occasionally it would stop to gaze around, or wander from one side of the road to the other before it continued it's meandering course.
We followed the animal in the car at a very slow pace. Even the passing of an oncoming vehicle completely failed to faze the animal. The closest we approached in the car was probably 20 feet.

Eventually, it wandered off into the bush, but still trotted along parallel with the car, just a few yards in from the ditch. After 100 yards or so through the bush it returned to the ditch where we shot a bit of video of the animal.

As I mentioned above, my immediate thought was that it was a wolf. The legs are long and it is lean, not like the typical pet dog. I thought it was too tall and large to be a coyote, but now I'm second-guessing myself and am not certain. Maybe it is a coyote after all, I don't think it's big enough to be an adult wolf. But then again, if the animal is starving or sick, and suffering mange (hence, the very thin coat) it would look much smaller than it's healthy relatives. I've never seen a coyote that light in colour and it's nose wasn't pointy like a coyote either. There was feces or mud stuck to it's rear end. Maybe it could be a ferrel dog? That would explain it's lack of concern over vehicles. Whatever it was, it doesn't appear healthy (though I'm not a vet nor a wildlife biologist; my real ability to determine animal health is limited to the lab). I still think sick young wolf seems the most likely.

I have a few buddies that will certainly know one way or the other. I'll direct them to his post and get their input.

Update 28/10/08 - I've heard back from 2 people that know better than I do, one who works for PANP, and another that is a wildlife biologist & veterinarian. Both agreed that I was correct, this is a wolf with mange. Dave in PANP says that a mangy wolf like this is not uncommon in the park. Bryan, a colleague in my lab, mentioned that when animals have mange, they can become so distracted by the itching from the mites that they are oblivious to everything around them, such as humans & traffic. Bryan also added that mange and canine distemper can be associated (hence the feces on the fur & the generally poor condition).
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