The Eastern wolf is a separate species, though many people mistakenly think it is a subspecies of the red wolf or gray wolf. It is, however, closely related to these wolves. They are also very similar in appearance to the much-loved huskies of Alaska. They are often thought to be coyotes due to their build and their coloring. The eastern wolf is small to medium in size, as wolves go, with a reddish or light brown coat. They have some longer hairs, usually black in color. There is a faint reddish color behind the ears. As the wolf gets older it will grow more long black hairs.
The Eastern wolf is a native of the northeastern side of the Great Lakes region in America, being mainly found in and around Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, also venturing from here into Quebec in Canada. It can also be found in Manitoba and Minnesota. The Eastern wolf lives in coniferous and mixed forests in the north, and deciduous and mixed forests in the south.
Wolves live together in packs, which are social structures of some complexity that are based on the breeding adult pair (the dominant male and female) with their offspring. The pack size varies according to the amount of available prey. The hierarchy of dominance within the pack helps in its functioning as a unit. The wolves are quite loyal within the packs and work hard to keep other wolves out of their area. This is the reason for their frequent howling. They are most active during the night but can be seen during the day. They have large territories of about 150 km and rove constantly searching for food, often as much as 20 km a day. They communicate through scent marking, vocalizations, body posture, and facial expressions.
Eastern wolves are monogamous for their lifetime. The dominant pair in the pack will mate between January and February, with the pups born about two months afterwards, a litter numbering 4 to 7. The female will stay in a den until the pups are about two months old. They stay around the den for 6 - 8 weeks and those that leave the pack do so after 37 weeks.
The main threat outside protected areas is probably from hunting and trapping, facilitated by roading networks. Research in Algonquin Park has shown that large numbers of deaths probably limit dispersal and change pack breeding dynamics, causing another main threat: cross-breeding with eastern coyotes due to the scarcity of eastern wolves as mates. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to roading networks and urbanization is another threat to population expansion, as well as negative public attitudes towards them, and established eastern coyote territories.
According to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) resource the total population size of the Eastern wolf is less than 500 individuals. Most Eastern wolves live in central Ontario and western Quebec; the highest population densities are found in Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada).
Eastern wolves are keystone predators because of their help in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. As they eliminate only weak animals from the pack, the pack becomes stronger and healthier overall.