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Monday 28 September 2020

Walking with wolves

If I go back through my photographs to spring 2017, I suddenly come across a lot that look like this

© Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Or this

© Rowena Fletcher-Wood

What are those strange objects?
The answer is poo. Wolf, hedgehog, boar and deer scat… amongst others. So what was I doing photographing animal scat?
The answer is, tracking.
Believe it or not, wolf poo contains a lot of fur, so what they leave behind tends to look wiry as it decomposes, as if it were made of steel wool. Eventually, all that’s left is fluff.
It’s hard to tell much about animals from tracking, but you can learn something. Wolves, for example, defecate at the turning points of their territory, which they patrol regularly. You can map out their territories from these signs, and make guesses about the pack sizes and their diets. Alongside prints, rubbings, couches, and other “sign” of behaviour, we can take guesses about animals in the wild. This is incredibly important in conservation science, especially where animals like wolves are involved.
© Rowena Fletcher-Wood
I was tracking in Risnjak National Park, Croatia. There are no wolves left in the wild in the UK, but there are some in captivity. Beowulf, for example, from Amazing Animals, is a film star who offers animal experiences. We can learn a lot from watching animals in captivity too. Obviously they behave differently: they don’t have the territorial scope to explore, and they don’t have to hunt to survive, but we can learn something.
During my walk with Beowulf, I quizzed his handler, and watched how he sensed the presence of pheasants, or the scent of dogs, but casually ignored humans. In some ecosystems, the wolf is a keystone species. Many keystone species are top predators, and as such have suffered at the hands of humans in the tug of war for shared resources. Wolves probably went extinct in Britain in the late 1800s (we’re not quite sure when), but case studies such as the 1995 reintroduction of pack into Yellowstone National Park show they can have profound effects on habitat and ecology, boosting biodiversity, managing some animal populations, and redirecting rivers.
So what would happen if wolves went extinct in Croatia? Or if we reintroduced them to Britain?
Apart from lots of wolfscat, of course.

More resources

If you’re interested in animal tracking, take a look at bushcraft company Woodland Ways.

If you’d like an animal encounter, talk to Amazing Animals.

To read more about keystone species, check out our article.

© Rowena Fletcher-Wood

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