When Geoff Heith got a message from a friend on the North Island that wolves were spotted, he headed straight for the wilderness with the hopes of taking pictures of them.
While he did succeed in doing just that, he also captured something a biologist says is quite rare.
Heith is a photographer and filmmaker and says a friend who works on a boat on the North Island sent him a video of the wolves on Friday.
“She saw three wolves,” Heith said in an interview with CHEK News. “So I hiked out there the next morning with a buddy of mine who came up from Comox. So it’s just by this river here up on the north end.”
Heith and his friend headed up on Saturday. He says he sees bears in the area quite frequently but it is less common to see wolves, so he was excited to head out to see if they could find the animals.
“The wolves were actually a surprise, we haven’t seen wolves around the area before,” Heith said. “It’s about a 25- to 30-minute hike out to this spot, and then came around the corner and there’s the river there. When we came around the corner, right away, there was two wolves maybe 100 feet away from us.”
Heith says when the wolves spotted him and his friend they took off, and he was able to take a picture of one of the wolves standing on a log.
“That was our one chance to see the wolves,” Heith recalled. “And then while we were there, the bears were already there eating salmon in the river, and we kind of like stayed behind a few logs there, take a few photos of the bears. And then one of the wolves popped out of the forest.”
Heith says the wolf then went to the side of the river the bears were on, and that’s when he caught the standoff between a bear cub and a wolf.
“The baby cub actually chased off the wolf and got a little nip at its heel,” Heith said. “And then mom kind of came in for backup afterwards and scared the wolves off, but they kept on coming back.”
Megan Hanacek, a professional biologist, tells CHEK News being able to capture a picture of a wolf and a bear is quite rare on Vancouver Island.
“For Geoff to get that is pretty unique, because recent conservative estimates for wolves on Vancouver Island, which is 3.2 million hectares, is about 180 to about 250. And it fluctuates, it goes up and down, because there still is some hunting of wolves,” Hanacek said. “But to get a wolf with a bear cub in the same frame, it’s a pretty rare event.”
Hanacek says she has lived on northern Vancouver Island for over 40 years and in that time has only seen two wolves.
“One at dawn crossing the highway, and one from a helicopter on Vancouver Island, they’re very elusive,” Hanacek says. “I’ve seen more cougars than I’ve seen wolves. I’ve seen 13 cougars in the bush and a whole group of bears.”
Heith says while this was a great experience, he does want to stress that proper precautions were taken.
“Both me and my friend were pretty safe distance away from everything, shooting on long lenses, we weren’t interrupting them or trying to get in their way to get the photo,” Heith says. “We’re both professional photographers, and we’re taking all safety precautions while we’re doing the photos. It’s kind of a big, important part of wildlife photography.”
Hanacek echoes this, saying especially when photographing predators, it’s important to take safety precautions.
“Especially with predators, wild animals are unpredictable,” Hanacek said. “The best thing is to have the appropriate equipment that you can be appropriate distance away…and it’s always good as a wildlife photographer to work with a partner, and for people know where you are.”
Heith says it was a great experience to be able to capture the pictures of the wolves with plenty of other wildlife as well.
“To capture two or three of them in one spot with that much extra wildlife with the eagles, and the bears is pretty unique experience and pretty rare,” Heith said. “So I thought that was pretty neat.”
“We were joking around that we were hoping that an orca would jump in the background just to cap off the picture,” Heith joked.