By MARINA SACHT
When Gary Allan jokes about being left to the wolves, he isn’t kidding. He and his wife Sally run the SWELL Wolf Education Centre located in Cedar, along with Tundra, Nahanni and Mahikan.
It’s been barely a year since he and his wife relocated here from northern Vancouver Island, and he is making a name not for himself, but for wolves and the important role they play in our ecosystem.
Allan and Tundra have been visiting and educating community groups and schools.
Tundra is a beautiful 11-year-old and has bonded deeply with him. Nahanni, an Arctic Wolf, and Mahikan, a black wolf, are both four-year-olds, and he has been working with them since they were five weeks old so that he could build a bond of trust between them.
“It’s critical to bond with the wolves when they are very young,” he says. “They aren’t dogs, and they don’t really want to have anything to do with humans. Normally.”
The wolves are actually wolf dogs, which means that they have a high content of wolf and are therefore legal to keep. But these are not family pets, he warns.
Allan has been inspired by wolves his entire life. Finally, in 2003, he got his first wolf dog from a breeder in Alberta. Tundra followed. At first, it was for personal enjoyment. But soon people noticed that she was no ordinary pup. The local Beaver troop approached him and asked if they could meet her, and as she got older, he started taking her to visit the local elementary schools. Soon a school program had been created, and they were visiting schools in the area. Word spread and community groups joined in as did individuals.
Now, a year after moving here, he has developed a walking program on Saturdays and Sunday mornings where you can join him and Tundra for a walk. It’s by donation, with funds going towards the school programs. No children under six or dogs are allowed.
For Allan, who is now retired, this is a project of love. He is on a mission to share the stories of the wolves and the critical role they play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
The relationship between wolves and indigenous people is special. “They see the wolf as a brother and have a real spiritual connection. There are many legends of wolves in First Nations. The Kwiakah First Nation people tell a story about two brothers who were trapping in Knights Inlet in the 1890s. They came upon a wolf that had accidentally been snared. They said to the wolf, ‘Turn your head, and we will take the snare off your foot.’ They did and the wolf ran off. Two days later, the brothers, while working the line, saw the wolf with his pack. The wolves chased a deer to the brothers so that they were able to shoot it.”
It’s about reciprocity. This theme is repeated many times in a number of legends, stories of wolves bringing food to indigenous people and feeding them.
Sadly, today wolves are looked upon as a nuisance, and wolf culls are now commonplace. Pressured by ranchers and hunting guide outfitters, wolves are being culled with whole packs exterminated. The reality is that only half of the per cent of livestock killed is by wolves, says Allan.
Experts say that the decline of caribou in the Interior has more to do with a loss of habitat than it does with predatory wolves. The issues are closer to home as well. The provincial government is considering extending the trapping season for wolves on Vancouver Island.
Hunters and guide outfitters complain that they aren’t getting to shoot the deer and elk they want, but it’s easier to blame the wolves than admit that we have failed to secure the habitat to sustain the wildlife. That decision is based on economics, with the wolves paying the ultimate price. “The reality is that more people want to see conservation,” says Allan. “It took a long time to stop the grizzly bear hunt, but it can happen.”
One of Allan’s bright spots last year was getting to meet Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist and anthropologist known worldwide for her work with chimpanzees. After meeting Tundra and listening to Allen described their work, she called it a “splendid education program.”
The programs and walks connect people with wolves and by recognizing that connection, we may become better stewards of our wildlife and planet.
“It’s not me. It’s the wolf that gets the credit,” says Allan. “I’m just driving Miss Tundra.”
For more info, visit whospeaksforwolf.com.
Tundra, and Dr. Jane Goodall seeing eye to eye. Photo courtesy of Gary Allan