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A wolf track a day… keeps the doctor away?

By Ella Parker

Pictures: Kai Breithaupt

It was early May 2020, and my partner and I set out on snowshoes along what, in warmer months, is visible as the ‘Grizzly Trail’, a hiking route in Tombstone Territorial Park in central Yukon. Evidently no humans had been here for weeks, because only faint imprints indicated the winding path that would lead us up the ridge. Not far along we began to follow a small creek bed and noticed the deep tracks of a moose and the snipped willows it had been browsing on. We kept walking and soon came across another set of tracks, but this time they were wolf.


The next thing we noticed was blood on the snow. We knelt down to examine the blood to determine where it came from. Perhaps the wolf had an injury? We looked up and less than five metres from where we stood, was a large moose carcass under a spruce tree. The intense smell of decaying flesh hit us then and would stay lodged in our nostrils for hours.

Fascinated, we set off on a mission for clues as to what had happened. We found many more wolf tracks and followed them up the hill to a packed-down area on the ridge where the wolf had bedded down for the night. On the way back we also noticed that the wolf had crossed over our own tracks from hours before. This meant the wolf was still in the area and likely intended to go back to the carcass for seconds. Our proximity to this mega-carnivore was palpable in that moment as we gazed back in the direction of the dead moose.


Left: One of the many wolf tracks we saw.


Right: The melted snow on the ridge where the wolf had bedded down for the night

Wolf tracks and EcoHealth

I might not have thought any further of the incident but being in the ‘Ecosystem Approaches to Health’ course compelled me to find the EcoHealth connections. Getting back to the car after our snowshoe, we felt exhilarated and rejuvenated by our encounter with the wolf kill and wolf tracks. We had been presented with a glimpse of an intact predator-prey relationship that had been operating for thousands of years in this ecosystem. EcoHealth recognizes that health is partially a product of our interactions with ecosystems, but how can I conceptualize my wolf experience through this lens? Could this stand-alone encounter, and others like it be contributing to my personal health?

Panelli and Tipa argue for an approach to health that focuses on how place and cultural-specific interactions with ecosystems can influence our well-being (1). My personal response to the wolf tracks was likely informed by my previous experiences and knowledge of the Tombstone Territorial Park. In my previous job working as an interpreter for the park, I learned that wolf species have been hunting on this landscape dating back to the Pleistocene era, roaming the tundra alongside woolly mammoths and other Beringian species that have since gone extinct (2). I also spent many weeks exploring similar alpine and tundra landscapes learning to appreciate and notice species large and small. Wolves are typically shy and mysterious creatures, not often seen by humans, making this a rare and exciting incident. My previous experience working, learning about and spending time in these ecosystems contributed to the awe, inspiration and benefits I drew from this encounter.


This connection to natural spaces is sometimes called ‘place attachment’ (3), and can lead to enhanced health benefits. Place attachment “arises when settings are imbued with meanings that create or enhance one’s emotional tie to a natural resource” (4). In turn, place attachment can lead to repeat visitation to natural areas and ensuing health outcomes. Research has shown that exploration and fascination of natural environments has been associated with health outcomes such as rapid recovery of mental acuity and can aid mental reflection (3). However, the specific role of wildlife experiences in emotional attachment to place is often overlooked and not well understood (5). However, Folmer and others researched bird sightings in the Netherlands and identified that seeing wildlife is likely an important component to forming emotional connections to the natural environment (5). The answer to my question, “could this wolf track encounter be contributing to my personal health?”, is a definitive: yes!

Not enough wolf tracks to go around?

Inevitably, we must also consider if it is sustainable for us all to benefit from these kinds of wildlife encounters. Unfortunately, one of the most serious threats to wildlife species comes from human-wildlife conflict (6). Further, growing anthropogenic disturbances and environmental change is putting our ecosystems in an ever more precarious situation. I have often wondered while hiking in Tombstone Park and encountering caribou, marmots or bears, whether the benefits that I derive from these experiences outweighs the potential harms of my impacts (additive with those of other recreationalists) on the landscape. Luckily, we are all different in what ecosystems and interactions we depend on for health and happiness. Are there any particular tracks or wildlife sightings that bring health to you?  

After we returned from our hike, we notified the park rangers of the wolf kill we had encountered. To protect future hikers from other predators that may be drawn to the area, the trail was temporarily closed down. This and other park policies to limit negative human-wildlife conflict is one of the ways that we can strike a balance to ensure we do not harm ecosystems while trying to experience them. Sadly, but probably for the best, we would be the only people to benefit from this particular wolf track experience.


1.         Panelli R, Tipa G. Placing Well-Being: A Maori Case Study of Cultural and Environmental Specificity. EcoHealth. 2007 Dec 1;4(4):445–60.

2.         Grey Wolf | Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre [Internet]. [cited 2020 May 19]. Available from:

3.         Wolf ID, Stricker HK, Hagenloh G. Outcome-focused national park experience management: transforming participants, promoting social well-being, and fostering place attachment. J Sustain Tour. 2015 Mar 16;23(3):358–81.

4.         Vaske JJ, Kobrin KC. Place Attachment and Environmentally Responsible Behavior. J Environ Educ. 2001 Jan 1;32(4):16–21.

5.         Folmer A, Haartsen T, Huigen PPP. Explaining Emotional Attachment to a Protected Area by Visitors’ Perceived Importance of Seeing Wildlife, Behavioral Connections with Nature, and Sociodemographics. Hum Dimens Wildl. 2013 Nov 1;18(6):435–49.

6.         Dickman AJ. Complexities of conflict: the importance of considering social factors for effectively resolving human–wildlife conflict. Anim Conserv. 2018 Nov 21;458–66.