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WOLVES & PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS

WOLF NEWS #9

By Bonnie Bishop.

As a university student in the Department of Geography at Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, research can take one many places around the world. For me, Thompson, Manitoba was not a place I ever thought I would end up. Before starting this project, I had a strong interest in human-environment interactions, particularly human interactions with wildlife. As I was deciding whether or not to do a master’s degree under the supervision of Dr. Alistair Bath, I had two projects to choose from – studying bison in Alaska, USA or studying a “Wolf Capital of the World” initiative in Thompson, Manitoba. It’s not common to see positive perceptions of wolves in the human dimensions field and for such a small place to take on such a big title. Besides, how often can one say they worked on a project led by an NGO (Spirit Way Inc.) like the “Wolf Capital of the World”? The choice was obvious. Of course, it’s not easy moving to a small, northern city that you’ve never seen before, but the reward of the experience was tremendous.

Before this project, there was no solid knowledge of whether or not public support existed for the Spirit Way Inc. project to identify Thompson as “Wolf Capital of the World” and/or a “Wolf Centre of Excellence”. The purpose of my research is to better understand public attitudes toward wolves and these two initiatives. My research would fill a knowledge gap and help considerations of key issues surrounding wolves, wolf management, and the economic nature of Thompson as “Wolf Capital of the World” or a “Wolf Centre of Excellence”. Phase one of the research took place in 2014 and was focused on local resident attitudes. Phase two took place in 2015 and focused on visitor and local youth attitudes. The questionnaire for all three groups of people had the same, pre-tested questions, which allowed for comparisons among them. The survey included 101 questions on various topics related to wolves and the “Wolf Capital of the World” and “Wolf Centre of Excellence” initiative. With ethics approval and permission from the Mystery Lake School District I collected over 800 questionnaires in the span of three months in 2014 and six weeks in 2015; enough questionnaires to be able to statistically generalize my results to the population of Thompson. After speaking to hundreds of people, I found that many residents, youth, and visitors support the initiative, but there still exists some questions and uncertainties. Approximately 50% of participants were in support of the “Wolf Capital of the World” initiative, while approximately 30% remained neutral. After speaking with many people, I predict that this uncertainty comes from a lack of knowledge about the initiative – something that is a work in progress for these types of projects. I believe that in time, this will change. The results I gathered should help to guide further educational efforts and decisions regarding the future of Thompson, as well as to identify where potential differences and conflicts may lie and to address those issues.

In my adventures, I met and spoke with many people about my research in order to find out what residents knew about the initiative, how they felt about it, and to learn more about Thompson in general. I learned about Thompson’s history, aboriginal culture, hunting traditions, and even how to make caribou calls to attract wolves. Of course, because my research was based on the ever elusive wolf, I never did see one in Thompson despite my patient early morning and late evening attempts.

In addition to my research, Dr. Alistair Bath facilitated related workshops in Thompson and in Winnipeg. Since 2014, two research reports, a workshop report, and several media interviews have been delivered. I have presented this research in many capacities including presentations to over 100 researchers and practitioners at The Wildlife Society Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2015 and to several researchers at the Pathways Human Dimensions conference in Nanyuki, Kenya in January 2016. Each time I present my research, it fosters an enormous amount of intrigue in Thompson and the “Wolf Capital of the World”. Between the research participants and the additional individuals interested, there exists a solid basis of support for the wolf initiatives being undertaken by Spirit Way Inc.

At present time, I have completed more extensive data analysis, and I am now in the writing process of my thesis, as well as publications for academic journals, which will reach a wide, international audience. Combined with the completed work, this will create knowledge mobilization for the “Wolf Capital of the World” and “Wolf Centre of Excellence” initiatives. Wildlife can often be an asset to diversification, and these two projects could help stimulate tourism opportunities, provide some economic sustainability, help give the city a more positive image, and provide entrepreneurship opportunities for local residents. I hope that my work will bring awareness to a community that I know has a lot of potential not only for tourism, but for research opportunities as well. These past two years have presented me with one-of-a-kind experiences that I am so grateful to have had. I’m not sure where my next adventure will take me, but I am definitely looking forward to completing my thesis work and will be following the “Wolf Capital of the World” in years to come.

To receive a copy of research reports, workshop reports, or more information about this research, individuals can contact Bonnie Bishop at bbish@mun.ca or Spirit Way Inc. at thompsonspiritway@gmail.com.

 

WOLVES AND A WILDLIFE FILMMAKER

WOLF NEWS #8

Matt and Timber

Matt Paproski is an independent, wildlife filmmaker based in Drumheller, Alberta with a passion for animals including his two wolves he rescued from a game hunting farm. He has raised them as pups and works with them as movie actor wolves in the film industry and for educational purposes. His company, Starland Studios, has produced and distributes a TV series, Wildlife Wranglers, and film, Cougar Crossings. His wildlife films not only require government permits to house and travel with his animals, but demand special animal care procedures to ensure safety for all concerned and the utmost diligence and respect for his treasured animals.

In early 2015, Paproski read in the news that Thompson was being labeled as the Wolf Capital of the World. After some preliminary investigation, he reached out to Spirit Way Inc. (SWI) to form an alliance that could be beneficial in fulfilling the destiny of his two wolves.

After a few months of introductory emails, Paproski learned that Spirit Way had almost completed a large state-of-the-art wolf habitat in a natural setting at the Boreal Discovery Centre. As no wolves were yet living in the 1 1/4 acre space, SWI felt it would be an appropriate time to invite the filmmaker to Thompson to explore possibilities. Paproski arrived at same time that actor and musician Tom Jackson was in Thompson for a benefit concert for the Wolf Capital of the World campaign.

Thanks to complimentary passes from Calm Air and hotel room and meals provided by the Meridian Hotel, Paproski was hosted for several days in Thompson. The film maker said he was impressed with the passionate SWI volunteers he met who were devoting a large amount of time in helping their community. The hospitable nature of the residents in this northern city quickly shone through.

While Paproski was in town, SWI board members kept him very busy. He did some candid filming of the Tom Jackson concert, toured the Boreal Discovery Centre, showed some of his company’s films at a screening, spoke at elementary schools to classes of young students, was interviewed by CBC North and the local newspaper, and spoke to Thompson Unlimited, the local economic development corporation, about the possibilities of a launching a wildlife film making industry in Thompson. For SWI directors, this was a new area of interest and economic development that had never been considered in Thompson before. Paproski made reference to the many wildlife film festivals world wide and the huge market for such films. He would be willing to organize such a film festival in Thompson.

A preliminary plan emerged to prepare a documentary film, ‘The Journey of Two Wolves’, about Paproski’s wolves, Timber and Aurora, that could visit Thompson and become ambassadors for the Wolf Capital of the World. By coincidence, “Timber” is the same name as the SWI mascot! A unique, educational wolf film could be broadcast on television and the internet and draw attention to Thompson in the wildlife film market. Key messaging would communicate that Thompson’s willingness to co-exist with wolves can help develop eco-tourism and the economy, and set a strong example to the world. As an apex predator species, undisturbed wolves can reinforce the need for protection of the Canadian boreal forest, the largest intact ecosystem in the world. Negative and wrongful issues that malign wolves could be addressed correctly in the film to help overcome long standing myths and fears. A strong educational slant would align with Spirit Way’s intention to develop a Best Practices model for all things wolf and cover wolf issues such as captivity, poaching, trapping, trophy and helicopter hunting. Other positive angles for a northern film could be made on behalf of animals, aboriginal peoples, the environment, and the community. It became obvious there was great potential for more than one film and even a series of TV and online documentaries.

Last year, President of SWI, Marion Morberg and Paproski began marketing the film project at the annual On-Screen Manitoba All Access Forum held in Winnipeg. They met with potential broadcasters and co-production partners that could assist in getting a wolf film released to the international market and at film festivals. Morberg quickly recognized that more discussion should happen with Thompson and industry players including Manitoba Film about developing a media industry in the North. While in Winnipeg, Morberg and Paproski met with Phil Lafontaine, the former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He was willing to assist and advocate how helping wolves would be beneficial for northerners.

Paproski also introduced Morberg to his associate Dr. Ken MacQuisten, owner of Grouse Mountain Wildlife Refuge. Dr. MacQuisten provided very helpful advice regarding rescued wolves, as well as how SWI could take advantage of the wildlife film industry.

Recently, SWI submitted a proposal for a Canada 150th Anniversary grant to “Celebrate Canada’s Wildlife & Wilderness” that would include eight days of events, called Wild Borealis. Planned activities would include bringing Aurora and Timber to Thompson for public engagement, educational experiences at schools and special events, and film making in the Wolf Capital of the World. A wolf pack’s complex intelligence and social behavior could be studied by local volunteers and youth to learn how to care for rescued animals in captivity.

Paproski expressed optimism to be invited to Thompson for the 150th Anniversary in the fall with animal handler, Laura Dougan, and his camera crew. His team would travel across many scenic landscapes from the Badlands in Alberta to the boreal forest of northern Manitoba. The trip would be documented for sharing on social media and a future documentary wolf film.

Paproski’s smiled when his creative mind suggested that community and indigenous leaders could be invited to gather for a special closing ceremony at Thompson’s 150th celebrations and gatherings. Great reverence could be made to Timber, Aurora, and all wolves in the north, as indigenous people have always held high respect for this animal. After seeing first hand the new wolf habitat at the Boreal Discovery Centre, Paproski remarked, “This is the best space I have seen in Canada. Some day when Timber and Aurora are ready to retire, it might be a great place for them to visit or stay in the Wolf Capital of the World.”

 

HOW TO BECOME A MASTER WOLF TRACKER!

WOLF NEWS #7

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At the Wildlife Society Conference, held in Winnipeg in October, 2015, members of Spirit Way Inc. and the Boreal Discovery Centre from Thompson promoted their plans and programs to a record attendance of 1560 people. A few university students who visited the Wolf Capital of the World display booth were dismayed to see a GPS wolf “hunt” in Thompson, until they learned that Spirit Way Inc. was promoting a hunt for wolf statues!

The idea for the Spirit Way Wolf Hunt grew out of the Spirit Way project. Spirit Way is a two-kilometer long “Manitoba Star Attraction”. This easy walk takes you past 17   Rob Shultz Bonnie2unique points of interest that have won awards for Spirit Way and made it one of Travel Manitoba’s “Top 20 Places to Visit in Manitoba”.

The GPS Wolf Hunt was conceived by Volker Beckmann who designed a small passport booklet that show the statues produced by the Spirit Way group. Each statue had been sponsored by a company or agency for $5000. The statues are identical in shape but painted completely differently by various artists. The statues are 7.5 feet tall and made of solid concrete weighing 5500 lbs. The prototype was shaped from styrofoam by award winning muralist Charles Johnston of Winnipeg. A fiberglas mold was then prepared by Peter Wall of Roland, Manitoba. Gerry Derocquigny of Lorette, Manitoba, a retired concrete craftsman, gets each statue poured and shipped to Thompson once the order is received.

By 2009, Spirit Way had moved and positioned the heavy 49 wolf statues in three cities – Winnipeg, Thompson, and Churchill, and the GPS Wolf Hunt was launched. This Hunt is a form of geocaching, which is a popular pastime requiring the use of a global positioning system (GPS) to locate caches in precise locations. Most geocaches contain small objects which you either record in a log book or exchange for a small object of your own. The Spirit Way GPS Wolf Hunt requires that hunters simply locate 49 wolves across Manitoba. “It’s a unique way to combine the quickly-developing past time of geocaching, with an appreciation for art and the adventure of visiting parts of Manitoba you might otherwise not see,” said Beckmann.

The statue hunt requires the person to purchase a GPS Wolf Hunt booklet for $5 from a vendor in each city. They must check the website, www.thompsonspiritway.ca, to obtain the latest GPS coordinates, as some statues have been moved since the passport was printed. The mission is to find each statue using the GPS coordinates and enter the statue’s name/title into the booklet. They must get all the titles correct and have that confirmed in each city by a special rubber stamp in their passport. Once all three rubber-stamped impressions are entered, they have completed their hunt that has taken them 1000 miles from the prairies around Winnipeg to the boreal forest around Thompson to the tundra at Churchill. It is a fun and challenging travel adventure across Manitoba!

The last step is to simply send their contact information to the website. A personalized MASTER WOLF TRACKER PDF certificate is sent via email. It is signed by all mayors of Thompson, Winnipeg and Churchill. The recipients can print their certificate, frame it, and hang it on a wall as many do. Their name is also posted on the website as a Master Wolf Tracker.

Stan and Lynne Ritz of Winnipeg were the world’s first GPS Master Wolf Trackers. “This was an awesome adventure and we really enjoyed the wolf hunt,’ said Stan Ritz. “Our adventure left us with memories to last a lifetime.” The couple found all the wolves in Winnipeg before driving to Thompson and boarding the train to Churchill. Many trackers are visitors from all parts of North America. One couple were touring from Peru, South America, and found all 49 statues to be recognized as Master Wolf Trackers. One family from Flin Flon had their children take turns writing the wolf’s name into their booklet. Mom said, “The kids were having a blast running to each statue to see who could reach it first. We giggled and laughed a lot. The hunt is a fun thing to do as a family.”