BY ANDREW BAILEYBlack Press
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve officials shut down Wickaninnish Beach and surrounding area after a wolf attacked a dog owned by a Nanaimo woman on Thursday morning.
“What was particularly concerning about this morning’s incident is that the dog was actually on a leash at the time of the attack,” the park’s resource conservation manager Renee Wissink told Black Press on Thursday. “Normally wolves won’t go after dogs that are on leash … The wolf was very bold.”
The dog survived the attack but Wissink said “there was definitely contact and sustained contact between the dog and the wolf.”
The attack prompted an immediate 24-hour shutdown of the beach to give Wissink’s team space to haze the animal and try to re-instill a natural fear of humans.
“We have airhorns; we have special shells that we shoot out of a shotgun; they’re called bangers and screamers because they do just that, they create an explosive noise or a screaming noise,” Wissink said.
“The one we will be using on this animal is beanbag projectiles. They’re meant to hit a large muscle mass like the rump, so they do create a pain stimulus. The idea there is to try to do some aversive conditioning to associate people with negative things so that [wolves] are going to stay away from people and their dogs.”
He said the wolf is believed to be the same one that has been reported following people and their pets along Florencia Beach and noted its behaviour suggests significant habituation and no fear of humans.
“If this wolf continues to exhibit this behaviour, if the habituation has gone too far, then, in the end, there may be no other option but to destroy it. But, that would be our absolute last option,” he said.
“The absolute last thing we want to do is destroy an animal … Wolves are an integral part of the ecosystem here and also highly respected by our First Nations. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation for example has made it very clear that the wolf is a very sacred animal to them and they don’t want to see those animals destroyed.”
In an effort to give the wolf every chance to succeed, survive, and become wild again, Wissink said the Park has put a one-week dog ban in place throughout the entire Long Beach Unit.
“We’re still not getting the level of compliance that we would like with the dogs off-leash issue and we really need people to help us here, particularly locals,” he said. It’s often not a wildlife problem, it’s more a people problem. The wildlife is learning their bad behaviours from us and they pay the price in the end.”
While the dog that was attacked on Thursday was on a leash at the time, Wissink suggested the wolf’s behaviour stemmed from seeing other dogs off-leash.
“I think it’s an escalation as a result of people not having their dogs on leash previously,” he said. “They’ve learned that dogs off leash are easy targets and then they learn that dogs are easy targets whether they’re on or off-leash.”
Dogs, by law, must be leashed at all times within the park, but too many visitors are struggling to understand the importance of that law and, Wissink said, talks about enhanced enforcement are ongoing.
“It’s a huge problem and we really would like to find the mechanism to bring better compliance and, I think, locals can be one part of that solution by setting good examples and being ambassadors. But, aside from that, we are exploring other things that we might do … We are going to look at other options that we might institute in the future, but those are still under discussion,” he said.