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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Cry Wolf

Air Date: Week of

Bob Carty visits Canada's Algonquin Park where thousands of visitors gather every summer as a ranger howls for the wolves that live there to reply and be heard. Tourists come from all over to hear this increasingly rare primitive call.


NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. The wolf is one of the most feared and most revered animals on this continent. Feared for the real threat wolves pose to livestock and the false belief that wolves kill people. Revered as a symbol of untamed wilderness, of the pristine plains and forests that existed before human settlers arrived. Hundreds of thousands of these carnivores once roamed North America in packs, their prey including deer, buffalo, and surprisingly even mice. Now fewer than 70,000 wolves are left, most of them in Canada. Each summer thousands of wolf fanciers gather in Canada's Algonquin Park, about 4 hours north of Toronto, to learn about these wild canines and to hear their legendary howling. Producer Bob Carty went to listen in and sent us this audio collage.

("Roll call. George." "Yep." "Jason." "Yep." "Vick." "Here." "Sandy." "Here.")

STRICKLAND: The wolf howl has been compared to a quasi-military operation. Every move has to be planned. We have special flashlights for directing traffic. We have 10 radio-equipped vehicles. And most of all, we have a very cooperative audience of about 2,000 people.

("This is the Rock Lake Road. This is Fisher Lake. The wolves are right at the sharp corner. Laura Nagle and I found them last night. It sounded like about 3 adults, although one of them...")

STRICKLAND: By definition we only hold a wolf howl if we ourselves have heard wolves the night before. My name is Dan Strickland and I'm the chief park naturalist of Algonquin Park.

("Fill the main lot. Approximately 400 cars. Drivers, do not forget your signs." Fade to many people gathering)

STRICKLAND: Before people actually go out on their wolf howling expedition they assemble at our outdoor theater. Ron Tozier, long-time park naturalist here, will give a highly entertaining talk.

TOZIER: Great to see so many people out here again tonight, many of you for the first time, to introduce you to this marvelous animal, the Algonquin Park timber wolf.

CHILD: I think it would be pretty neat to hear a wolf howling, because it's just neat. (Laughs)

MAN: And my son is dying to hear it as well. Aaaouuu! You see? (Child howls)

TOZIER: Most of today's North American wolves are in Canada. There are virtually nothing in the lower 48 states here. Why is this? Is it because Americans hate wolves a lot more than Canadians? Not really. It's because there are a lot more Americans than there are Canadians and there always have been. In Canada, we still have lots of wolves because there are relatively few of us, and as I always like to point out, we cluster along the American border for our living because the TV reception is better there. (Audience laughs)

STRICKLAND: The whole business of wolf howling as a research tool started here, right in Algonquin Park, between 1958 and 1965. This had been an animal that had been persecuted by man for centuries and the basic life history wasn't even understood.

TOZIER: When wolves have eaten and killed animals that we have thought of as exclusively ours, they have really got into trouble. This is a cow. And wolves who spend a great deal of time and effort chasing something like a deer must be amazed when they encounter these things that just stand there. (Audience laughs) Not for long. Bad PR. Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf. Is the wolf really a threat to us personally? In North America, there is no documented authentic case of a wild, healthy timber wolf ever giving serious injury or death to a human being.

STRICKLAND: The main part of our audience consists of campers who are already here. The audience is overwhelmingly urban, about 2,000 people, probably, this evening, who will be well-briefed before we actually set out.

TOZIER: You do need to pull up as close as you can to the car in front of you. And you get out of the car and you wait quietly. And then eventually you will hear it, the first human howl. And Ron will come out here and demonstrate that human howl because he will be the one who's giving it. (Ron howls, followed by audience applause)

STRICKLAND: My howl doesn't sound a lot like a wolf, and that's sort of important in this kind of a wolf howl, because people need to distinguish between my sound and the wolves' sound. And the longer you can hold it, the better.

(A motor starts up; a car drives over gravel)

STRICKLAND: And when we finished the talk, we all get in our cars and head out to the spot where we have found wolves the night before. When we're actually traveling it is just an amazing spectacle. Four or five hundred cars may not sound a lot, but it still stretches for over 20 kilometers. When we arrive at the wolf howling location, people turn their engines off, get out, and stand very quietly. And people always marvel at just how quiet 2,000 people can be. Just how great the longing of urban man for that firsthand contact with wolves and -- and wilderness really is.

(Woman on radio: "Two seventy, this is portable Melinda." Man: "Go ahead, Melinda." Melinda: "Just reached the end and everybody stopped." Sound of crickets and nothing else.)

STRICKLAND: Down through the forest here there's quite a boggy area with a creek running through it, and that's probably where the wolves are. Several hundred meters. We're hopeful there will still be adults here, perhaps, on a kill which they're not ready to leave yet.

(Man: "Rental four, two seven three." Man 2: "Yeah, Dan we're fine here, we're quiet and ready to go." Man 3: "Wolf howling portable, go ahead, first howling sequence.)

STRICKLAND: Okay, Dan, we'll go ahead with the howling. (Howls, followed by a large wave of howls) Two seven three, howling mobile.

HOWLING MOBILE: Go ahead, Ron.

STRICKLAND: Yeah, perfect pack howl, adults and pups.


(People laughing and talking)

WOMAN: It was quite a fabulous night.

WOMAN 2: Oh, that was great. We didn't expect to hear it so close.

WOMAN 3: Oh, I thought it was marvelous! A little scary.

MAN: We're from England. I felt cold in the legs, it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The sense of fear, of primitive, primitive animals, which is in all men, that's what it is. Yeah. Yes. Yes, the sense of the primeval. (Laughs)

WOMAN 4: You really fear you're hearing an animals that's extinct in most of the world, and they're still here in Algonquin Park, wild, and it's just one of the most fantastic feelings you can have.

WOMAN 5: We couldn't have gotten a more perfect night for it either.

(Cars rolling over gravel; fade to crickets, then to a large pack howl)

NUNLEY: Producer Bob Carty tells us that after almost 5 hours of preparation, travel time, and waiting, the wolf howls lasted barely one and a half minutes. Yet he reports the crowd of nearly 2,000 people showed no signs of disappointment.



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