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By Tom Spears
An Arctic wolf visits Paul Sokoloff, who was at Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island. Photo by Paul Sokoloff
Ottawa’s Paul Sokoloff was doing a peaceful survey of plants in the High Arctic when a wolf stuck its head into his tent.
So Sokoloff did the only thing that made sense. He grabbed his camera.
Sokoloff is a plant biologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature and has just returned from a three-week expedition charting the plants of several Arctic sites. He was at Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island when he woke up in the bright Arctic night and saw an Arctic wolf poking its head through his tent door.
“Just its face (came in), thank God,” he said.
“I took a picture because that’s the first thing you think of when a wolf comes into your tent. I started yelling at it. It’s 1:30 in the morning, so I’m waking up the rest of the camp.
“Troy (another biologist) hears this and he starts yelling at the wolf. And the wolf, instead of getting spooked, says, ‘Oh there are people over here too,’ and went over to Troy’s tent and proceeded to be curious.
“He came back to my tent and tore my vestibule in half. So I have to go back and see how MEC’s warranty really stands up to wolf incidents.” (MEC is Mountain Equipment Co-op.)
“It took us a little while to scare the wolf out of camp. He was just curious about what was happening. Not aggressive, just curious.”
It was about the size of a Labrador dog, he said. “Not super-big but certainly not something that you want to get comfortable with next to you.”
At least there were no polar bears.
Sokoloff and Troy McMullin brought back hundreds of samples of both plants and lichens from their journey north.
They went from Resolute to Eureka to Axel Heiberg Island and on to Lake Hazen, collecting plants and lichens because they paint a picture of environmental conditions in the Nunavut. (Lichens are a sort of partnership, a blend between fungi and algae.)
Scientists do these surveys in order to compare conditions today to 100 years ago, or 100 years in the future. And lichens are especially useful because they tend to need a very specific habitat, “and as soon as the habitat changes so they can’t live in that area any more, that is instantly a signal that something is wrong.”
Besides finding known local species, they found types that thrive in Saskatchewan and Colorado, places that are far warmer, but similar because they are dry.
“Precipitation is the driving factor in where they (lichens) grow, not necessarily temperature,” Sokoloff said. “They are hardy organisms. It’s very polar desert up there, very little precipitation.”
Now, about that tent warranty: The Citizen checked, and the museum may be out of luck. It’s a really good warranty, says Chris Chapman of MEC, but it doesn’t cover a wolf that eats your tent.