More people in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have reported wolf sightings in recent months, and officials say an abundance of garbage and leftovers from hunting trips have been drawing new animals to town.
"Urban areas generate a lot of food for wolves, and the main one is garbage," said John Pisapio, the senior biologist in the wildlife division of the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources in Labrador.
The improper storage of moose bones and hides also attracts wolves, along with incidents where hunters are unable to retrieve the animal.
"Sometimes moose are shot but aren't mortally wounded, they run into the woods, they die a few days later, and the wolves find those. Three or four of those around town over the course of a year will go a long way to feeding a local wolf pack."
Pisapio said intentional feeding of the animals is a problem, but garbage, both improperly stored and illegally dumped, is the biggest draw.
"The animals become reliant upon and can become habituated to [garbage], and when they become habituated, that's when they can lose what is otherwise a natural fear of people," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.
When wolves lose that fear of people they can become more bold and brazen.
"They're not really looking to knock anybody down, but they can become pushy in terms of those handouts, and there's a certain level of fear associated with that."
The wildlife division collared two wolves in September 2016, and closely monitored them for several months to determine their travels and food sources.
Pisapio said frequent aircraft checks last winter confirmed a total of three adults in the pack, occupying an area of about 300 square kilometres, which includes the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
'They're not really looking to knock anybody down, but they can become pushy.'
- John Pisapio
The GPS collars also allowed the department to remotely track their movements, and officers then checked out the areas the animals returned to over and over again.
Moose that were not initially fatally shot, areas with discarded hides and bones, intentional feeding and garbage were all found at locations the wolves visited repeatedly.
Pack kept other wolves away
Two of the wolves have since been killed — one of the collared animals was shot in the last couple months — and only one is thought to be still alive.
Wolves are highly territorial, and Pisapio said they generally do a good job of excluding most other wolves from their turf, creating a period of relative stability with a low incidence of conflict with humans and pets.
However, with the loss of the resident pack, the door is open for neighbouring wolves to move in, and they are showing up at spots where garbage is being dumped or where officials suspect they are being intentionally fed.
"In the last couple months at least three additional wolves have been snared and shot in these areas. The key to addressing the situation is to eliminate these known food attractants," said Pisapio.
What to do in a close encounter
Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources is advising residents, especially those living near wooded areas, to protect pets by ensuring there is no food left out that would attract wild animals, and to keep dogs on a leash or under close supervision.
The department suggests the following precautions in case of a close encounter with a wolf:
- Stay calm.
- Give the animal space and avoid restricting its options to depart the scene.
- Avoid direct eye contact.
- Back away slowly while facing the animal, and never run.
Pisapio said wolf sightings alone are not necessarily a concern, but anyone witnessing fearlessness toward people or aggressive or abnormal behaviour should call the 24-hour emergency line at 709-897-7116.