Manitoba Conservation officials believe the report of a Birds Hill-area man who says he recently trapped and killed a wolf within 25 kilometres of Winnipeg's downtown.
The mature wolf, which had apparently killed a number of pet dogs belonging to area residents, was trapped several days before Remembrance Day southeast of Birds Hill Provincial Park near Garven Road and Provincial Road 206.
Photos of the animal, estimated to be about 70 kilograms, and the man who caught it have circulated on Twitter and email. Manitoba Conservation was at first hesitant to verify the photos -- it says too many other bogus ones circulate on the Internet -- but now believes they are real.
"This one I think is going to be legitimate," Ken Rebizant, the manager of the big game unit with the wildlife branch of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, said Wednesday.
The trapper, who lives in the area, declined to be interviewed.
Rebizant said sightings of wolves in the Birds Hill area and the rest of southern Manitoba are rare.
"We probably get around three to five reports of wolves being in the very southern end of their range in Manitoba," said Rebizant. "By southern end, I mean the southern Interlake and south to the U.S. border."
He said more common areas for wolves in the southern region is in the Sandilands area to the Minnesota border, Spruce Woods Provincial Park, Riding Mountain National Park and occasional sightings in the Turtle Mountain area.
Manitoba's estimated wolf population is about 4,000, with hunters and trappers taking about 500 each year.
Rebizant believes there's been an increase in the wolf population during the past two decades, an increase he attributes to a downturn in trapping because of lower pelt values. At the same time, more people are reporting seeing them because of the emergence of the Internet and mobile devices.
"The other thing, too, is deer populations have been healthy in the province," he said. "Their prey base is good."
Wolves also prey on beaver, elk and moose.
While there have been no reports of a wolf feeding on dogs in the Birds Hill area, there have been reports of such behaviour in Thompson, Rebizant said. "Wolves are opportunistic. They will take an easy meal."
He added the province has brought in a trapper incentive program -- $250 per wolf -- in hunting areas that have been closed to moose hunting. The province wants to increase the moose population by reducing predator numbers.
"Our wolf population is healthy," he said.
The wolf population in Minnesota is also healthy. The state held its first regulated wolf hunt this fall. It closed last Sunday with 147 wolves being harvested.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources initially set a statewide limit of 200 wolves for the early season.
The Minnesota agency issued 3,600 permits to early season wolf hunters and 2,400 permits for late-season hunters and trappers. The second season runs Saturday to Jan. 31. Since hunters fell short of the early season's 200-wolf quota by 53 wolves, the DNR will increase the late-season quota by 53, meaning the total harvest for both seasons cannot exceed 400 wolves.
In other sightings, cougars on prowl
THERE have been two confirmed sightings this year of the one of the rarest animals in the province, the cougar.
"Both are based on trail cameras," said Bill Watkins, who manages the province's cougar-surveillance program. "One was on the edge of Riding Mountain National Park and one in the Interlake last month."
Watkins said that, in most cases, cougars spotted in Manitoba are young males that have made their way here from the northern U.S. states where the cougar population is more established. They've most likely been pushed out by older males.
Both North and South Dakota have recently increased their hunting quotas for cougars, or mountain lions as they're called there, because of the high numbers, he said.
But in Manitoba, Watkins estimates there might only be a dozen cougars, and none in Birds Hill Provincial Park.
"People around Birds Hill are absolutely convinced there's cougars living in the park, but we've never, ever confirmed one in that area," said Watkins. "The closest confirmation is Stead, which is to the northeast."
He also said his office gets photos of large paw prints from people who think they were made by cougars. But most are made by large dogs, coyotes or wolves.
"People see claw marks and automatically assume that it's a cougar because it's got big claws, but they forget, if you own a domestic cat, they retract their claws when they walk."
Watkins asks if Manitobans are using trail or remote cameras -- they're triggered by movement -- they should place it near a fresh deer or elk kill.
"If anyone picks up a cougar on their trail camera, please let us know," he said.
"I suspect there's hundreds of photos out there that people just aren't telling us about."