Rare quartet of wild dog species captured by Alberta photographer

November 24, 2021
Rare quartet of wild dog species captured by Alberta photographer


It’s not so rare to see a coyote or fox leaping through Alberta’s prairies, but spotting all four species of wild dogs native to the province within a year and capturing them on camera might only happen once every few decades.

Yet amateur wildlife photographer Mike Borlé did exactly that in recent months, shooting the so-called canid quadfecta on visits to Medicine Hat in southeastern Alberta. He got shots not only of the red fox and the coyote, two species well-habituated to humans that can be seen all over the province, but also a grey wolf — ranging hundreds of kilometres from its usual habitat  — and swift foxes, which are on the endangered list.

“It’s extremely rare,” Borlé told Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray.

“My understanding is that there’s been four other confirmed wolf sightings in the prairie region in about the last 20 years.”

A grey wolf ambles through open prairie near Medicine Hat. (Mike Borlé)

In fact, according to Chris Fisher, a prominent wildlife biologist and author who retweeted Borlé’s photos, speculated it might only happen once a century.

Typically, grey wolves inhabit the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and seldom venture into the prairies.

However, the fall is known as the dispersal season, when young males are pushed out of their packs and forced to find new places to live.

The wolf photographed by Borlé might have followed the river valleys out of the Rockies into the prairie grasslands, said University of Calgary wildlife biologist Shelley Alexander.

Two swift foxes, an adult and a juvenile, survey the open prairie. (Mike Borlé)

The dispersals can take the wolves very long distances, with an individual travelling 70 to 100 km per day, according to Alexander.

“All carnivores are every day looking for food and a solitary wolf [is rare] because they live in families in order to take down large prey,” she said. “The rarity of the wolf out there is to do with the fact that they rarely make it past the mountains.”

The swift fox, on the other hand, is native to the prairie grasslands but has very limited habitat, so one has to know where to look. 

It was wiped out from Canada in the 20th century and reintroduced in the 1980s. According to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, about 650 swift foxes can be found in the country today, concentrated in a small area of prairie grasslands in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Grey wolf numbers can be difficult to nail down because of their healthy numbers that span a wide territory and different habitats but they number in the thousands in Alberta, Alexander said.

The return of the swift fox to the area is considered a great success story in species rehabilitation, said Borlé, who works in the environmental management field on solar and wind power projects in the area.

While wildlife photography is only his hobby, he says it’s cool to see some different wildlife in the prairies.

“I travel pretty extensively through the province and so I always have my camera on the passenger seat,” Borlé said.

“It’s just a matter of spending a lot of time, putting on lots of miles.”

If you’ve also managed to capture some great photographs of swift foxes, grey wolves, coyotes or red foxes in Calgary, we’d love to see them. You can share them with us by emailing [email protected] or tagging @CBCCalgary on Instagram

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener


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