Sandra Riches is still in awe of a breathtaking encounter she had with a coastal grey wolf in Tofino last week.
“It took me totally off guard and it really shocked me. I felt really fortunate that I was having this opportunity just one on one, because there was nobody else on the beach. It was just the two of us, so it felt like a moment of a lifetime,” she said. “I was just mesmerized and felt really struck by the whole experience…It was really special for me.”
Riches spotted the animal alone on MacKenzie Beach while exploring her surroundings outside Tofino’s Ocean Village Resort around 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 29 and was thrilled to capture the experience on video.
“I put on my phone and decided to video myself walking down the boardwalk there and as I was walking towards the beach I saw something come out of the corner of the left hand of the screen,” she said. “I just felt really fortunate and honoured to see such a healthy creature in its environment.”
Riches said she has enjoyed many wildlife sightings in the over 25 years she’s spent in outdoor recreation management, but the Tofino wolf stands out among them.
“This adds to the list and I’d say it’s right at the top,” she said adding that she never felt scared of the animal. “I felt comfortable and more in the moment than probably I have been in a while…No fear at all. That didn’t even cross my mind.”
She posted her wolf encounter online and the video was shared widely around social media, including by Tofino mayor Josie Osborne who posted the video to her ‘Tofino mayor’ Facebook page and urged residents to use the encounter as a reminder to be aware of the wildlife around them.
“Here’s a very visual reminder that we are living amongst wildlife,” Osborne wrote. “That’s the time of day I am often walking my dog on a local beach, how about you? Please, take good care of your domestic animals AND the wild animals by keeping your pets close, under control, and leashed.”
Riches coordinates AdventureSmart in B.C. and was visiting the West Coast to meet with Parks Canada and the Lifesaving Society around preventing incidents around shorelines.
“We’re all about outdoor safety, personal preparedness and situational awareness,” she said. “It’s about incident prevention and how we can be prepared and safe.”
She added that she was happy to share her experience and video with Parks Canada staff, who were pleased to see the wolf showed no signs of habituation.
“He sensed me or saw me because he stopped and, as you can see in the video, he kind of glanced in my direction and then turned and went back where he came from. So, from Parks Canada’s perspective he did exactly what he should have. He didn’t act habituated or anything of the sort,” she said.
She said her encounter shows the importance of researching locations before exploring them.
“We can be ‘adventure smart’ in many ways. We can be prepared with gear, but mentally we can be prepared as well and that can really get us through situations,” she said. “This was a once in a lifetime chance, but there are signs posted throughout your community of the wildlife in the area and that’s my responsibility to educate myself about what’s in the area…Do your own homework before you head out so that you are aware of wildlife situations.”
She said AdventureSmart is working closely with Parks Canada and the Lifesaving Society on preventing incidents and promoting the CoastSmart program to help locals and visitors stay safe around West Coast shorelines.
The group is hoping local businesses can help deliver CoastSmart messaging to visitors this summer and asks anyone interested in helping spread the safety messaging to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-604-671-2241.
“We’re trying to primarily work closely with the outfitters, so that they can help us increase awareness to the visitors of town,” she said. “If anyone is interested in partnering up with us, we’re here for you. We’d love to get this ball rolling. We’ve got it started and the more people the merrier that can jump on board.”
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