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Watch: Voyageurs wolf gets his own collar-cam

Voyageurs Wolf Project is first to put a video camera collar on a wild wolf.

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A wolf chews on a leg bone from a deer in this image captured from video footage from a collar-cam. (Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project)
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The researchers at the Voyageurs Wolf Project have hit another home run for folks who like learning about wolves, this time retrieving the first known video from a collar camera placed on a live wild wolf.

Lone wolf No. V089, not a member of any pack, was trapped last spring near the Ash River and fitted with a GPS collar, as are dozens of wolves being studied by researchers.

But this time researchers also strapped a collar camera on the young male wolf before setting him free. The camera, essentially a “GoPro inside the collar’’ captured 30 seconds of video at the top of every hour during daylight for 42 days straight, said Thomas Gable, lead researcher on the project.

Battery life was the limiting factor and why the camera could only run for short periods. The collar was programmed to fall off the wolf exactly six weeks after it was deployed, and researches used the GPS coordinates to track it down in the woods and recover the video.

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What they got was more than four hours of video of the wolf gnawing on a deer leg, eating fish, watching birds, walking in the woods and — most of all — sleeping.

“We knew wolves sleep a lot, and this one was no exception … like a lot of animals, wolves are active for a couple hours and then they sleep, so that was a lot of the video,’’ Gable said.

Researchers edited the video down to about 3 minutes for the viewing public and posted it Wednesday on their Facebook and YouTube pages.

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Lone wolf No. V089 is released after being fitted with a collar-cam in this still image taken from a video. (Courtesy of Voyageurs Wolf Project)

Gable said the collar-cam so far is more interesting than enlightening, although the video documented yet another wolf catching and eating fish that's not part of a previous pack of wolves known to fish for food in small streams, namely for suckers.

“This footage clearly demonstrates that other wolves in our area know how to hunt fish as well,” Gable said.

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Many of the video clips are partially obscured by the wolf’s long hair on his neck, and researchers note they may need to give any future camera collar wolves a bit of a haircut before deploying the unit.
The collar cam "clearly has great value for outreach" to the public, Gable said. “But, from a research perspective, we’ll have to wait and see what value it might have.”

While camera collars have been placed on grizzly bears, caribou, deer and other larger critters, Gable said this is the first he’s aware of a camera collar being placed on a wild wolf.

The wolf collar-cam is the latest in a series of amazing discoveries and firsts for the project that is studying wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park. Those include the first documentation of Minnesota wolves fishing, wolves eating berries as a large part of their summer diet and wolves ambushing prey like beaver — not just stalking and running-down prey. The project, which relies heavily on trail cameras as well as GPS collars on wolves and focuses on wolves' little-known summer behavior, also released a viral video this past winter of trail camera photos taken on a beaver dam over an entire year. And the project published a recent research paper about how wolves, by controlling beaver populations, are altering the very landscape they live in.

On average, there are about 73 wolves in the Voyageurs Park area spread among multiple wolf packs. The Voyageurs Wolf Project is headed by the University of Minnesota, where professor Joseph Bump is the project head. The project has used social media to better explain what they find to the public, and now has more than 83,000 followers on Facebook.

The wolf project had been funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund that's stocked by the state's lottery profits. But that funding ran out last year when the Minnesota Legislature failed to pass a trust fund bill, leaving dozens of projects across the state without funding.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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