Minnesota Wolf Shows No Fear of Snowmobiles in 'Extremely Abnormal' Behavior

Wildlife experts have issued a warning about a wolf that showed no fear of snowmobiles in the Minnesota wilderness, saying its behavior was "extremely abnormal."

The incident happened in the Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, close to the Canadian border.

The Voyageurs Wolf Project, a University of Minnesota-led group that studies wolves in the national park, posted images of the wolf to Facebook. Pictures show how it came within feet of several people riding snowmobiles on a track through the forest.

The Voyageurs Wolf Project said people should be careful if they encounter the animal in the future: "The wolf seemed unalarmed, did not appear to exhibit fear of people or the snowmobiles, and just sauntered/lingered in the area. This is **EXTREMELY ABNORMAL** behavior and folks should exercise caution if they encounter this wolf," the Facebook post said.

Under Minnesota law, people are permitted to "harass" wolves in a way that does not harm the animals if they come within 500 yards of humans, settlements or domesticated pets like dogs.

Wolves normally avoid humans. A 2021 study published in the Forest and Ecology Management journal found that the recolonization of forested areas by wolves led to the animals choosing sites further away from human habitation and infrastructure such as roads.

"This is the first time we have documented this behavior on our project ... We have certainly seen wolves who might saunter along a road and not seem to care about passing vehicles [but] a wolf that approaches a snowmobile or allows people to get within 5 five feet of them on a snowmobile is very odd," Tom Gable, project lead on the Voyageurs Wolf Project told Newsweek. "We warned people because wolves that do not have any fear of people and who are acting this way can be unpredictable and folks who see such an animal should exercise caution.

"Wolves do not represent a risk to people. Wolf attacks are extremely, extremely rare and people should not have any concern about wolves when traveling in the area or northern Minnesota. In this sense, wolves are often misunderstood because people often assume wolves must be a threat to human safety, which they aren't except in very rare cases," he said.

The gray wolf population in Voyageurs National Park has stayed constant since the 1990s, with between 30 and 50 wolves present in the park, split between six to nine packs.

Footage released by the Voyageurs Wolf Project in January showed an entire pack roaming the Minnesota wilderness. "Rarely do we get the entire pack in a one frame", the groups said in a Facebook post at the time.

Wolf numbers declined rapidly during the 19th and 20th centuries in North America alongside the expansion of human settlements brought on by colonization. Gray wolf numbers have since recovered thanks to being officially recognized as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act of 1974.

Today, the animals have expanded into to several areas of the U.S. including Yellowstone National Park, where their reintroduction was hailed as a success in rebalancing the park's ecology in various ways and benefited numerous plant and animal species in the area.

Stock image of Gray wolf in snow
Stock image of a gray wolf in the snow. The animals typically shun humans, making the wolf's close encounter with snowmobile riders highly unusual. hkuchera/Getty Images