Hoping to capture a picture of a wolf within the fog, photographer Geoff Heith hiked out before dawn last weekend to a spot on the rugged shores of northern Vancouver Island, aiming for the mouth of a river where severe drought has trapped salmon who cannot return upstream.
There are so few wolves on the island, the percentages were against him. Perhaps two dozen wolf packs range across greater than three million hectares of land, but he had a fresh tip that there have been wolves on the river. He ended up in the correct place at the correct time, to catch a standoff between two apex predators who were drawn to this unusually abundant fishing spot.
It was barely daylight and dense with fog when Mr. Heith and one other photographer emerged out of the forest, onto the beach. They turned toward the river and immediately spotted two or three wolves.
The wolves disappeared before the pair could get their cameras out.
However the water here was stuffed with pink, chum and coho salmon, waiting for the rain to open their route upstream. Eventually one wolf reappeared, climbing up on a log to survey the newcomers. Mr. Heith and his friend hid behind a log 100 metres back from the river. “I got a few quick shots of the wolf observing us, after which they disappeared. And I went, oh crap, that was gonna be our only opportunity. We weren’t even ready.”
What the north end of Vancouver Island does have, nonetheless, is a big black bear population. Mr. Heith, who moved up here only a 12 months ago, knew his possibilities of salvaging the day were good.
“What the bears typically do is that they’ll come right down to the river, catch a salmon and return into the forest to eat, then come back again – it’s similar to a grocery shop.”
A mother bear along with her cub appeared on the slick rocks. “Then we saw the wolf come out of the forest,” he recalled. Now it was hard to know where to aim his camera.
He captured in a single frame a moment where the cub and wolf seem like staring one another down. Suddenly, the cub roared and charged, sending the wolf skidding on the rocks to alter direction. Together with his pack nearby, the wolf might need had an upper hand, and the cub appeared to think higher of its attack, turning back to scramble up a tree. “But then the mom got here in for backup right after, and chased the wolf away.”
Mr. Heith returned home to Port Hardy, considered one of the larger communities on the north end of the island. He posted his photo of the standoff on the “Hell Yeah Port Hardy!” Facebook site.
Megan Hanacek, knowledgeable biologist who works within the region, spotted the photo there and recognized Mr. Heith had captured something special.
“Your possibilities of even running right into a wolf pack could be very, very rare,” she said in an interview. To capture the interaction of two top predators is a once-in-a-lifetime shot. “It’s a tremendous a part of the world. We’re just extremely lucky to live where we’re.”
She applauded the 2 photographers for behaving in a way that didn’t disturb the animals. “They definitely did attempt to let the moment occur naturally.”
The coastal wolves of Vancouver Island were worn out through government-sponsored campaigns of hunting, trapping and poisoning.
Because the Eighties, nonetheless, wolves have made their way from the mainland to repopulate the island’s forests and coastlines. Wildlife researchers say it’s unlikely that their numbers have fully recovered, as most of Vancouver Island’s old growth forests are gone, reducing the numbers of the small black-tailed deer which can be a very important source of food. The province estimates there are between 180 to 250 wolves on the island.
Mr. Heith was careful not to reveal the precise location of his photos, hoping the wolves won’t be bothered by visitors looking for their very own encounters.
“I grew up within the Lower Mainland,” he noted. “Having these type of close encounters with animals is pretty unique and special. Each time I capture anything that’s wild, I’m at all times fairly excited. But this one was just next level – it was probably the most amazing experiences you may have as a photographer.”