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My Quest With Dad To Film Wild Wolves On B.C. Coast

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I pull myself up onto a huge cedar log, and then sidle down the other side. The understory of salal is thick, and the glossy leaves slap my face. Following my dad's lead, I drop on all fours and crawl under another an enormous log.

Suddenly, he stops in his tracks and turns back to me, his voice a whisper: "Do you hear that?"

Carried on the breeze is an eerie, mournful cry -- the disembodied voice of our quarry.

We have been tracking wolves through the forest for three hours now. This is the first howl we've heard. The sound is beautiful -- a long, low, almost supernatural cry that seems to wrap all around us.

My dad and I are making a documentary for CBC Television, and we are trying to locate a wild wolf den to film. My father, wildlife filmmaker Jeff Turner, has filmed wolf dens many times over his 30-year career, and is an expert tracker. But based on the wolf sign we have seen today, it seems unlikely the wolves' have made their den in this area.

chelsea turner

The next day we decide to go to a different area to search for wolves. Stepping onto one of the beaches here feels like stepping onto an alien planet. The sand is milky white, the water piercing jade. A full moon hangs suspended in a dark blue sky, and three bald eagles are slowly circling it like they're tracing the lines of a mandala. The treetops are a fierce, verdant green, lashed by the wind into peculiar shapes.

It feels so wild, so isolated. So I'm surprised when our guide and friend, Ian McAllister, tells me that people are encroaching on the wolves' home.

"The wolves here did OK years," he says, "But now there's more kayakers and campers coming. It's changing the dynamic."

He looks grim.

"I'm worried these guys will get in trouble... I'd be amazed if they last the summer. Some people still have a real hate on for wolves."

He says that one of the wolves in this pack was recently shot -- only 10 days ago - when she wandered near a group of campers on one of these beaches.

Wolves have long been cast as the villains in Western culture, and it's amazing how deep this misperception runs. If we can't co-exist peacefully with wolves here -- in the most isolated of places - what does that mean for the wolves' future?

~

The three attributes a wildlife filmmaker needs most are stamina, patience, and optimism. You need the stamina to endure the lack of sleep and biting cold; the patience to sit waiting for hours; and the optimism to enjoy the whole process.

It's 5 a.m. the next morning, and we're in a small boat about 50 metres from the shoreline, scanning the beach for wolves. Suddenly, Dad spots a pair of wolves coming down the beach. One is dark and a bit scruffy looking, almost like a hyena. The other is slightly larger, and has a beautiful grey colouring.

The black wolf moves back into the forest, but the grey wolf continues to amble down the beach in a relaxed fashion. She stops several times to snack on crabs amongst the driftwood.

Watching this wild wolf, it feels like my heart is in my throat. When an animal accepts your presence and allows you to observe and record its life -- when you can feel it trusting you in that moment -- it gives you a feeling of overwhelming honour.

Eventually the grey wolf saunters away into the lush darkness of the forest. I feel elated to have been so close to her. Maybe tomorrow more wolves will come out on the beach and we'll get a great sequence featuring the whole pack!

~

The next morning everything changes. A hunting guide has arrived and anchored his boat next to us. Even though this area is part of a provincial park, the wolves have no protection. In B.C., it is legal to kill a wolf regardless of age and sex (even pups), and hunting is allowed in most parks and protected areas.

After weeks of longing for the wolves to show themselves I am now praying that they stay hidden in the forest.

The grey female wolf we spent time with yesterday was so relaxed in our presence, appearing to not even notice our boat on the water. If a boat of hunters neared the shore, would she know the difference?

Blog continues after slideshow:

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The wolves do not show themselves and the hunter departs at dawn the next day. We breathe a huge sigh of relief, but I know that the feeling of safety is an illusion. After we leave this area, the hunter could easily come back and kill the wolves without any witnesses.

And we are leaving in just two days. It's time for one last-ditch effort to locate the wolves' den. Dad departs in the early evening to scan an area of forest that we haven't explored yet. When he returns, his face is lit up with excitement.

"I found the den!" he exclaims. He says the den was so well hidden amongst the roots of a giant cedar that it was barely discernable. Then he noticed the small dark entrance, and to his amazement, a tiny roly-poly wolf pup waddled out to look at him.

"Can we film there?" I ask excitedly.

"Not possible," Dad replies, "There's so much dense brush that we couldn't film from a respectful distance."

I feel disappointed, but I know that he's right. We might not be able to film at this wolf den, but we can return later in the year when the pups are older and more mobile.

I hope this wolf pack makes it through the summer without any trouble from their human neighbours. We've pushed wolves to the margins of our world already -- there's nowhere left for them to go.

It's up to us to leave a little room for the wild.

To be continued. Chelsea and her dad will be returning to film the wolf pups in August.