With one of his paws locked in a trap, this beautiful yet potentially dangerous timber wolf is stuck and going nowhere fast. And while the animal appears relatively calm, his rapidly beating chest suggests that he is in major distress. Then when a man brandishing a gun appears, it looks like the worst is about to happen.
The scene described above comes from a YouTube video that was uploaded in late 2015, and the man in question is John Oens, a trapper from Wisconsin. But as Oens starts narrating his video, it’s not entirely obvious what he’s planning to do next. There’s also a related question: has he captured the wolf on purpose?
Aside from some domestic dog breeds, timber wolves – also known as gray or common wolves – are the biggest members of the Canidae biological family. This group is made up of wolves, jackals, foxes, domestic dogs and other dog-like mammals.
It’s thought that the breed evolved 1 million years back in Eurasia and that the wolves then made their way over to the United States approximately 750,000 years ago. Timber wolves can grow to quite a size, too: adults can reach up to 5.25 feet in length and weigh in at almost 80 pounds.
The timber wolf has an incredibly thick protective coat, and its paws are also specially designed to deal with cold climates such as that of Wisconsin. These animals therefore boast extra fur in between their toes, while their paws are supersized, too, with elongated claws perfect for high-speed running.
And so the beautiful creature that had his paw trapped must have been pretty worried about the prospect of losing it, given just how important these specially adapted body parts are to his survival. Luckily, however, John Oens had in fact turned up to try and set the wolf free from the trap. Why? Because the wolf had wandered into the trap by accident.
Oens had actually laid the trap for coyotes. So when he found a wolf caught up in the device one morning, he knew there was only one thing to do. Somehow, he was going to have to set the animal free.
Luckily, Oens decided to capture the whole process on video. Pictured alongside the wolf, he explains, “This is my first timber wolf of 2015. It’s a big, beautiful animal. I’m gonna go ahead and get out of the trap and get him on his way.”
Next, the camera pans around to introduce two other men who have arrived at the scene to assist Oens with the release. However, they don’t seem totally convinced that the trapped animal is actually a wolf.
“Really, it’s just a big coyote, John; there ain’t nothing to him,” says the first man. And the other guy adds, “That ain’t no wolf; that’s a coyote.” Hmm, easy for them to say, perhaps. Especially since they’re not the ones about to risk their necks by coming face-to-face with the animal to set him free.
Anyway, ignoring his friends’ comments, Oens edges closer. Then, brandishing a rectangular piece of plywood for protection, he approaches the animal. His plan is simple yet clever: he has made a hole in the bottom of the wood which he then places over the wolf’s trapped leg.
First, the wolf jolts back, seemingly panicked by Oens’ maneuver. He snaps defensively at the wood with his jaws, attempting to get to his paw. Instinctively, the animal fights against Oens. After all, the creature may need help, but he’s surely terrified of the situation and the gun-toting humans surrounding him.
Luckily, after a few seconds, the wolf calms down. It seems that Oens’ piece of plywood was a bit of inspired thinking: it hides him from the animal so as not to scare him so much, and at the same time it shields him from a potential attack.
One of the men points a rifle directly at the wolf and says, “He’s watching me; he’s totally watching me.” This acts as a cue for Oens to start the rescue attempt. And with a GoPro attached to his helmet, he captures the whole attempt from another angle. But will it be successful?
With the wolf safely on the other side of the plywood, Oens sets to work on opening the trap. And while you might assume that he’d need a special device to do so, in fact, he pulls at the trap using only his hands.
In any event, Oens’ improvised technique is a success. With his paw released, the wolf leaps back before running off into the dense woodland behind, no doubt eager to get back to the rest of his pack. Plus, it appears that the animal has escaped from his ordeal completely unharmed.
Oens’ brave and utterly cool approach to the trapped wolf has won him plenty of fans. Indeed, over 3 million people have watched the video on YouTube so far. One commenter wrote, “Wow that piece of plywood was 10x quicker and more effective than the people who release using catch poles. Good job.” Another, meanwhile, wrote, “Damn, dude… you make that look so easy.”
The fact that the wolf was safely released is obviously great news for the animal, but it also comes as something of a relief for Oens. That’s because in 2014, a year before the incident, wolves found in Wisconsin were legally classified as endangered and so could not be poached. This rule is, furthermore, still in place today, although there are many in the state who want it reversed.
In fact, poaching for wolves in Wisconsin is a controversial topic with a long history of legislative changes. In 2012, for example – only two years previous to the latest endangered law being passed – the state legalized wolf hunting in an attempt to control pack numbers.
During those three seasons of legal hunting, almost 530 wolves were recorded as having been killed by hunters. Numbers have now recovered, however. In fact, the most recent figures put the Wisconsin wolf population at close to 900 – a record amount. And thanks to Oens’ handiwork, we can add his safely released canine friend to that number.