Wolves in Newfoundland – Are they Back?

As mentioned on my “About Me” page, I fell in love with wolves on a rainy trip to our cabin at Grandy’s River, Newfoundland. I was reading “Never Cry Wolf” by Farley Mowat. I remember glancing up from the book from time to time as the rain pelted on the window.

As I looked out at the same river where my Great Uncle Tom took American Author Zane Gray salmon fishing, I imagined what it must have been like when wolves roamed this Newfoundland landscape. Unfortunately, by the time Zane Gray visited this river, wolves were probably already gone.

I peg his visit to have been 1928 or 1929 because he was working on a book at the time, and he sent my Uncle a signed copy of “Fighting Caravans” in 1930 when he was back in California, a gift to repay a favor to him. I keep the book in a leather book jacket in a safe. For an author whose genre was Westerns, I bet the lone cry of a Newfoundland wolf might have been inspirational.

History of Newfoundland Wolf

Credit: (By John E. Maunder Original edition, winter 1982; adapted, without cited references, and by permission, from The Osprey 13(2): 36-49, June 1982 Revised and corrected edition, Fall 1991 [Both originally published in printed form] more here)

The Newfoundland Wolf (Canis lupus beothucus) is a mysterious animal. It was determined to be a separate subspecies by two Havard zoologists and is thought to have gone extinct sometime around 1925. Until their extinction, wolves roamed the island of Newfoundland off of Canada’s Eastern coast for 1000s of years and lived in balance with nature.

The Europeans upset this balance and brought their negative attitudes toward this animal based on ignorance, superstition, and fear. Settlers hunted wolves for sport and out of practicality to keep this ‘vicious and unpredictable” beast away from their loved ones as well as livestock.

This fear was not based on any facts. To this day, there has not been a substantiated case of a person being attacked and killed by a healthy, unprovoked wolf in North America. Like the wolves in Never Cry Wolf that the Canadian Government blamed for the carnage of dead caribou left behind by sport hunters, wolves in Newfoundland were likely the scapegoats for the dead livestock left behind by the settlers’ half-wild dogs. At the time, historians noted that packs of wild dogs were an ongoing problem for settlers.

The Last Wolf in Newfoundland

I remember, as a child, hearing that the last wolf in Newfoundland was killed in 1911 (though no specimen was found), but it seems they may have lived as long as 1925, give or take a few years. Reports of wolves, unconfirmed, continued into the 1930s. Whatever the case, there are few traces of this animal left today, with only 1 complete skin that resides in the Newfoundland Museum and 5 known skulls.

The closest I ever came as a kid to see a wolf was a taxidermied specimen in the now-defunct Animal Land tourist attraction off the Trans-Canada highway near the turnoff to Harbour Breton.

Mounted Specimen of the Newfoundland Wolf

Coyotes Make the Island Home – But How?

Coyotes are new to Newfoundland. Over the last 100 years, they have migrated from the midwestern US to all over North America. The first Coyotes arrived in Newfoundland in the mid-1980s. Although newcomers, they are considered native to Newfoundland because they came to the island by their own efforts. They were first reported when “wolf-like dogs” were seen crossing the ice near the Port au Port Peninsula in the spring of 1985.

Coyote walking in the fallen snow on a sunny winter's day

Their presence was confirmed when a pup was hit by a car near Deer Lake in 1987. By the mid-1990s, wildlife officials confirmed reports of coyotes throughout most of the Island.

It is possible that wolves could reintroduce themselves to the island in the same manner as Coyotes. It seems like this has already happened at least once.

Wolf found on the Island.

Most people agree wolves have been extinct in Newfoundland for approximately 100 years. There were sightings up until the early 1930s but were never verified. Unlike today, people back then didn’t walk around with smartphones and couldn’t snap a photo or take a video, so all they had was their word when they saw something. Many things thus went unverified.

In 2012, Joe Fleming of Bonavista posed with a photo of an animal that he killed. He initially thought it was a coyote when he shot it from a distance, but it seemed too large when he got up close. He had the animal’s DNA analyzed, and it was determined to be a wolf. Upon learning this, the hunter did express regret that he killed the animal.

The Department of Environment and Conservation hypothesized that it might have crossed on the ice from Labrador. This is exactly how Coyotes came to the island in the 80s. Whatever the case, it was considered a one-off event, but later that same year, a second sample from another animal killed in a trap three years earlier on the Baie Verte Peninsula also turned out to be a wolf.

As recently as 2019, Kurt Payne and his wife Andrea stated they saw several wolves near their home early one morning in central Newfoundland. They could not get clear images, but the couple has reportedly spent time at a wolf sanctuary in the past and felt they could distinguish between a wolf and a coyote.

Who Knows What’s Next?

Wolves roamed Newfoundland for a long time in balance with nature, yet their numbers were probably never that great, even at their peak. An unfortunate convergence of dwindling caribou herds and European hatred and fear led to this animal’s demise.

Though unverified, it does stir the imagination that just how Coyotes have made the island home so too have new wolves from the Canadian mainland. Somewhere out there in the wilderness, wolves may be slowly building up their numbers. While the Newfoundland subspecies is forever extinct, the island may once again be home to wolves.

Wolf in Newfoundland Captured on Camera?

How you can help Wolves.

Wolves are in trouble in most places they are found.

  • On a national level, you could write to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • You could donate to groups like the WWF or Defenders of Wildlife who stand up for animals like the Gray wolf. If you live in Canada, you could consider a gift to Exposed Wildlife Conservancy. In British Columbia, you can also check out Pacific Wild.
Consider Donating to Save an Imperiled Animal.

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68 thoughts on “Wolves in Newfoundland – Are they Back?”

  1. Hi. Thanks for your article.

    Personally I am an animal lover and it is always interesting to find a fellow animal lover around. You wrote many amazing facts about wolves that I didn’t know. They must have played an important role in your life from the way you expressed yourself about them.

    I was excited to read the rest of your articles too. You have a great site!

    Reply
  2. Hi, great article. Being from Australia, where our native dog is the Dingo, I did not realise there were so many wolf species. I suppose it makes sense, though, when you consider all dog species came from the wolf.
    It is a shame the original Newfoundland wolf has disappeared but good to see the wolf back there. We humans need to do more to consider the animals we share the earth with.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this interesting article. I have been reading about those that inhabited the are back in the 1800s. They were trying to survive in the country. And their intention was to succeed. Did you know that on September 14, 1839, the colonial government proclaimed a wolf bounty of five pounds sterling? That was a princely sum at the time. Guess what? By about 1930, the Newfoundland Wolf was extinct.

    Reply
  4. Hi, Stone!
    Your passion for wolves is absolutely catching!
    It was really an added value in my life reading your website. And by the way, the design of your hoodies is great! Having you been doing it for long?
    The thorough way you put things and explain details is awesome!
    Thanks a lot for the information and stay safe!

    Reply
  5. Very interesting post I’m a big wildlife lover and found you’re content very captivating, it is ouch a shame such a wonderful animal wasn’t any better understood, and not been exterminated after all they were gifts from God.

    It would be a great thing if Newfoundland could actually get their wolf community back with guidance, too much of any species will be detrimental to other animals, that call Newfoundland’s home.

    I believe you have a very important post letting people know just because it’s not understood doesn’t make it worse they should step back and get educated.

    Thank You for you’re very educational article,

    Bill Wright   

    Reply
    • Thank you Bill for your thoughtful words. Newfoundland is an amazing place. I grew up there. Most of the province which includes the mainland portion of Labrador is untouched wilderness.

      Reply
  6. So interesting! Your passion shows really clearly in your writing. I do know that wolves like many other animals can be put in danger by many different things. I really hope that there is a way that these wolves can be protected and return to their rightful homes. I have to ask if there is something that can be done or organized to help protect wolves. It is very important that animals are given the opportunities to live their lives.

    Reply
  7. I loved the amount of detail and care that you put into your article, and I found your insights about wolves in Newfoundland really interesting. This article made me wonder if it would be possible for me to see wolves on the island, and if so, how long would it take before people start picking up on their presence? Thank you for the article, It will help me lookout for interesting pictures and videos going forward.

    Reply
  8. Hi Stone, I enjoy reading this article about wolves and their story in Newfoundland. It is very interesting how they reappear again after about one hundred years. I hope this time wolves will be welcome in Newfoundland and the hunters did not hurt or hunt them. 

    thank you for sharing this wonderful story and facts. 

    Best

    Alketa

    Reply
    • I hope so. I already saw a news article of a guy there asking for a bounty. It’s not even proven that they are back and he is already vying for a bounty. It’s crazy and comes from a place of ignorance. It would take a significant number of wolves to make a dent in the moose population there. More moose are hit each year by cars in NL. What he really fears is having to work a little harder to fill his moose license because when wolves are around, deer are more fearful of everything – and they tend to stay away from the roads more as a side benefit.

      Reply
  9. Very interesting read and a bit sad that wolves went extinct there. I love nature and all wild life and it is certain that more species will disappear as long as people interfere so much with the environment. I cannot even imagine how many species were lost to human intervention. It’s just that when it comes to economic growth no one will consider these poor animals.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading. They may be making a comeback in the province but not everyone would be happy about that of course.

      Reply
  10. Thanks so much for sharing a great article to read to learn more about wolves in Newfoundland, as I live in the province of Quebec, in the country, at night we use to hear some coyotes calling, I asked my husband about wolves here in Quebec and he told me he doesn’t think there’s any, as I always love to learn about nature, it was a pleasure to read your article and learn more about wolves in Canada. 

    Reply
  11. Hi, what an interesting article. I love wolves! if you were to read my about me page, you would see that I love to mirror their characteristics. It is sad how man tries to kill those things which cause him to fear.  I am very glad to read that the wolf is making its way back to Newfoundland. My prayers will be that the land flourishes.

    Reply
  12. Hi Stone. Thank you for very interesting article. I heard before about Newfoundland wolves and their sad story but had no idea that there is possibility that they are still existing. Not sure how it would be possible that they survived almost 100 years without being noticed but I really hope that its true and these beautiful animals will be again part of ecosystem.

    Reply
  13. Wolves have certainly received a bad rap over the years and it’s a shame that they have been driven to the point of extinction because of it.  I was bouyed by your account of the wolf remains that were found in 2012 because where there’s one, there are probably.  Perhaps their numbers can build up again.

    Reply
  14. Hello there! This is an interesting post. As a child, I grew up with a lot of animal picture books with facts about them. Wolves are just one of the creatures that I enjoy learning about. But my understanding of them is still very basic at the moment. I definitely do not know much about the different types of species. Definitely enjoyed reading about the Newfoundland wolf that you mentioned in your post. That’s so sad that there are so few of them. Thanks for sharing this educational piece.

    Reply
  15. It is an interesting story of how wildlife will adapt and reclaim areas where similar species became extinct in earlier times. I guess nature somehow knows that there is a top predator missing in Newfoundland, ignoring humans that is, so first coyotes made their way there and later wolves from Canada. We’ve even seen this same phenomenon play out on a much smaller scale locally in recent months. We had a neighborhood cat, Harry, who ruled the roost. He finally passed away about a year ago. In recent months we noticed that rabbits are everywhere all over our yard now. Then we realized this was probably because Harry was no longer around.

    When I was very young we lived in the West of England very near a wood called Wolfridge Wood. I suppose I could say that local legend claimed it was named Wolfridge Wood because it was the last wood or forest in England that had wolves. That would have been centuries ago even if it was true. I think you’d have to get rid of quite a few humans for the wolves to return to the UK though. Half of England is just one big suburb now.

    Best regards, Andy

    Reply
    • I’ve been to Ireland but not England. Would love to go. I have heard that you are never that far from a town in England, so yeah wolves would probably not do well there since they avoid people.

      Reply
  16. Great article. thanks. I think wolves are amazing animals. Here in Scotland, I think they have actually been reintoducing them back into the wild up in the mountainous parts of the country known as the Highlands. It’s probably about as close as this place gets to being anything like Newfoundland.

    Reply
  17. Hi Stone,

    This is a very interesting posting. I have taken note that based on the caribou population at the time, the number of wolves in Newfoundland was maybe in the range of 450-800 at its peak before Europeans arrived, and the caribou numbers fell, like you stated. I wonder what has really resulted to the wild species being diminishing. Is it because of the humankind?

    This is very fascinating. 

    Best wishes!

    Reply
    • Humans contributed most likely. The herds do tend to increase and decrease naturally as well due to availability of food or it the winter was a bad one.

      Reply
  18. Hi there,

    Thank you for this beautiful piece about wolfs. I couldn’t stop thinking about the “the boy who cried wolf” when i was reading about wolfs on your blog. Oh yes, the wolfs are back in the beautiful hoodies displayed at the end. Wolfs are beautiful animals and being an animal lover myself, you bring bring me smiles with this beautiful piece. Thank you

    Reply
  19. A very interesting article. I don’t know much about wolves and that they are becoming even more rare these days. In films, they are largely considered as the ‘bad animals’, but the article give me a new perspective to these amazing animals. I’m glad wolves may be slowly building up and the Newfoundland may once again be home to wolves!

    Reply
  20. I am an animal lover, and I have a special passion for wolves, I read the article well, it is a wonderful article and the history of wolves in Newfoundland is very dramatic, I learned from your article a lot of important and amazing information at the same time about wolves.
    Unfortunately, human continuous interference in the balance of nature hastens the extinction of many types of animals. These poor animals deserve attention and care.

    Really thank you for this wonderful article.

    Reply
  21. It’s amazing, the range of wolves living habitats before the spread of Western civilization. I remember reading about Newfoundland wolves in high school biology. Because they were considered a subspecies and very different from all other wolves, and there were a lot of fables and stories about the Newfoundland wolves until about 1930.

    They actually gave them the class name Canis lupus beothucus, in honor of the Beothuk Indians who had lived in Newfoundland during the time the wolves roamed Newfoundland. It’s a shame Newfoundland will probably never hear or see wolves again. To listen to the eerie howl or catching a glimpse of the pack running along the tree line. Wolves are a remarkable species, and we are only now starting to understand the true nature of the highly intelligent animals. I can only hope we understand  the value of wolves and their heritage to North America.

    Reply
  22. Very interesting information on both wolves and coyotes in Newfoundland.  Surprising to hear that coyotes have gone that far east and north as Newfoundland.  I remember how surprised I was years ago when I saw coyotes deep inside the city limits of Memphis TN.

    Do coyotes and wolves ever mate with each other? 

    Reply
    • Not really. They can but it would be rare for this to occur in the wild. Wolves prefer to mate with wolves but it has happened when no mates were available.

      A century ago, wolf populations in the Great Lakes were at their low point, living at such low density that some reproductive animals probably couldn’t find another wolf mate, and had to settle with a coyote.

      Reply
  23. Hey!

    Thanks for this amazing article on Newfoundland Wolves.

     As I am an animal lover, I love reading and knowing more about different species of animals. What you have provided here is pure gold and it is indeed an outcome of your dedicated research and hardwork; which is much appreciated; it shows your love for wolves and has even passed this amazing information to me and other readers here!

     

    Reply
  24. This is a really nice article. I can feel how much you love these creatures. I hope you’re right, and that somewhere out there these wolves are building their numbers living in safety and security. The Earth is a big place. There’s is every chance that they are doing just that in some untouched corner.

    Reply
  25. Reading about wolves in Newfoundland is such an interesting topic and it is great to read more about the history of wolves. One of my favorite books on wolves is White Fang, and I have reread it several times. I will have a closer look at your suggested book to read of Never Cry Wolf, as the message of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, comes to mind when I look at the title. Would love to see the wolves back in Newfoundland.

    Reply
  26. Hello! Thank you for the interesting story about wolves. I personally love wolves, though I have never seen one in my home country ( Malawi) but wolves are nice. It’s bad that they became extinct species in your area,. However, let’s hope that one day they will return but this will be a different species. It was wonderful reading your story about wolves.

    Reply
  27. Wow, I love your website! I have always been fascinated by wolves and have read a book in the past about them. Also have viewed a lot of documentaries or movies about them. One of them was “never cry wolf’, quite interesting! I do hope that they will be back completely in Newfoundland, like they tend to be back here in Belgium. (which has been proven). 

    Reply
  28. This is a coincidence that I’ve come across your post. I was just watching a documentary on Nat Geo about how wolves were hunted by farmers (I forgot the name of the place). What happened over the next two decades was not so positive for the environment. Herbivore numbers exploded leading to overgrazing. There was deforestation as small tree shoots could not grow as they were eaten. The government had to reintroduce the wolves to rebalance the ecosystem.

    Reply
    • This unfortunately has happened around the world. One example that really illustates this is Scotland

      In Yellowstone National Park after wolves were reintroduced from Canada, the Elk became more fearful and spent less time in one area being care-free and eating all the plants. Fear caused them to move around more and gave young trees a chance to mature. 

      There has even been studies that correlate a healthy wolf population with a decrease in deer-automobile collisions

      Reply
  29. Undoubtedly a good cause, we must always support nature and the animal kingdom that humans cause so much havoc with our wild predation without limits and that sooner or later will turn against us if it has not already done so.

    Thank you for the information and for sending us this situation to those of us who did not know it.

    According to recent studies, wolves are fundamental to the ecosystem, keeping populations of other animals at bay so that they are not problematic pests and even have a fundamental role in rivers and plants.

    Greetings!

    Reply
  30. This was a very interesting article. Although I don’t know much about wolfs I love them and think they are very beautiful animals. I would love to see the population grow. Also reading this article makes me want to visit Newfoundland. It sounds like a beautiful place and I love to travel to new places. Would you recommend someone to travel out to Newfoundland for some site seeing? 

    Reply
  31. I enjoyed your article and the images were thrilling.  I’ve learned a lot about wolves from reading your post.  Humans have caused the extinction of so many species and I regret it so much.  

    I create designs also to put on tshirts, mugs, sweatshirts, etc. I like your hoodie.Your passion for nature and the great outdoors comes through with every word you write.  

    I had an uncle who collected Zane Gray books and I’ve read most of them.

    Reply
    • Thanks for checking out the article. It’s amazing Zane Gray made it all the way from California to a place as remote as Burgeo, Newfoundland in the 1930s for a salmon fishing trip.

      Reply
  32. You have read some very interesting books. I love Zane Gray, one of my favorite authors. Have you ever read Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong?. It depicts the dying culture of the nomadic Mongolians through the eyes of a Chinese student. I wont spoil it, but they adopt a wolf cub. Great story and very insightful. What is your favorite book?

    Stephen 

    Reply
    • Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll add it to my growing list. This book, Rise of Wolf 8 is also a great read about a scrappy little wolf in Yellowstone who rises to be the alpha despite all the odds against him. Perhaps the most spirited wolf I ever heard of.

      Reply
  33. I really don’t like to think of such a beautiful animal going extinct. It is pretty cool though how some wolves may be using the ice to cross into a new territory in Newfoundland. What kind of prey would they hunt in Newfoundland – is there sufficient food source to enable the development of a wolf population along with coyotes?

    Reply

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