From Gary Allan’s home at the northern end of Vancouver Island, it’s a 940 km one-way trip to Vernon.
But to share his message of understanding and awareness about wolves, it’s a small price to pay.
Allan was in Vernon recently for his presentation, Who Speaks For Wolf, for the Sustainable Environment Network Society and for students at JW Inglis and Harwood elementary schools.
“Who Speaks For Wolf is my journey to educate the public on canis lupus and to promote conservation efforts to provide protection for this wonderful, misunderstood animal,” said Allan. “It is a way for the wolf’s voice to be heard and acknowledged.”
With his wolf, Tundra, at his side, Allan discusses the importance of wolves to the ecosystem and, perhaps the highlight, invites the kids to get up close to the animal that most people have never seen, let alone have the chance to touch.
“I had dogs all my life, but I’ve always loved wolves and a lot of it goes back to reading Farley Mowat’s book, Never Cry Wolf,” said Allan, who welcomed his first wolf hybrid to the family 10 years ago, when he and his wife acquired Meshach. “He wasn’t as much wolf as I’d been told, but I did my research and I wanted to get a mate for him, not to breed, but just to keep each other company.”
He found a breeder in Alberta, and Tundra was born March 28, 2007. Three weeks later, he brought her home to meet her “brother.” While dogs are generally left with their mother until they are eight weeks old, Allan said a wolf needs to be brought home much sooner to allow for bonding.
“That’s where people have a lot of problems with these animals; they get them too late.
“I bottle-fed her and she fit into the palm of my hand.”
Allan built a large plywood enclosure for her, covered with a towel to ensure darkness, simulating a den-like atmosphere.
Less than one month later, Tundra was able to climb out of the box.
“My wife had gone to a meeting, I came home and found Tundra walking around the living room. These animals are highly intelligent from a young age. At five weeks, she was already figuring things out.”
With Meshach curious about his new sibling, Allan put him on a leash to keep Tundra safe from getting stepped on by the 110-pound half wolf/half malamute.
“He was curious and had this look on his face as if to say, ‘who’s this impertinent little pup?’ They’re the best of buddies now. When I did schools on the island, I left Meshach at home and he howled and paced until we got home.”
Now when he travels, Allan brings both animals on the road, although only Tundra does the classroom visits.
“They’re so bonded together, I couldn’t separate them. Wolves are very playful, from pups to older adults.”
For the past five years, Allan has been conducting presentations on wolves for schools and community groups, visiting more than 120 schools and seeing more than 17,000 students and teachers. Tundra is the star of the show as she gently interacts with humans.
“What I like about the kids is that they want to connect with Tundra, and she just stands there quietly.”
The key message, said Allan, is that wolves are intelligent creatures, essential to the ecosystem, and the mistake that fish and wildlife officials make is in trying to kill them as a way of protecting livestock.
“If you try to kill this animal, it will reproduce more.”
The problem, he said, is that if enough wolves are killed to disrupt the social structure of the pack, the remaining pack members will disperse upon the landscape. Without the strength of the pack to successfully hunt, the young, inexperienced wolves will kill livestock to survive.
“The BC Cattlemen’s Association recommends against this wolf pack disruption because it easily turns wolves from no predation on cattle to predation on cattle.
“The older remaining wolves will form pairs or disperse to find a mate. Scientific wolf research shows that lone survivors or pairs without supporting family members behave more unpredictably and kill more large prey animals than wolves living in stable packs.”
Allan is not suggesting people go into the wild and attempt to interact with wolves, but he said they are not, by nature, vicious animals.
“Don’t kill them from your community — chase them away, as you want them to continue to be reticent of having contact with humans.”
In his school presentations, Allan isn’t asking children to be politically active, he’s simple sharing what he knows, and explaining how valuable wolves are to the ecosystem.
“Children are incredibly intuitive and incredibly smart; they understand that if you take the wolf out, the beavers disappear, and that’s important because you need the wetlands.”
Now retired, Allan takes his wife to the ferry for her commute to work before spending the day with his wolves. They take their first of three daily walks.
“What Tundra loves to do is study everything; they do what is called cognitive mapping, they will know everything that is in their environment; one person said if you’ve seen a wolf, it’s seen you two or three times; they know exactly where the prey is.”
At 85 pounds, Tundra enjoys a meal of dry, grain-free dog food as well as raw chicken.
“She eats when she wants to, usually every two days; sometimes in winter wolves can go a week or two without eating, but when they do, they can eat 20 per cent of their body weight.”
As pack animals, Tundra and Meshach are happiest when they are with their family.
“They want to be with you all the time; you can’t be gone all day, as these animals will destroy things.
“So people get them for the wrong reasons. They are a fascinating animal and it’s so heartbreaking to see the hatred towards this animal.”
Allan’s retirement isn’t giving him any time to enjoy a game of golf or travel south for the winter. Instead, he heads north with Tundra and Meshach, taking them to the mountains where they can run free and, occasionally, meet a few of their own.
“One day we went for a walk, and there were wolves nearby, howling. Tundra responded to the wolves; she listened and let out two long howls — she was talking to the other wolves.”