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The Extinct Bernard's Wolf

Updated on July 9, 2017
What Bernard's Wolf approximately looked like. This is not a confirmed photo.
What Bernard's Wolf approximately looked like. This is not a confirmed photo.

Bernard's Wolf is known by many names such as Banks Island Tundra Wolf, Banks Island Wolf, and Victoria's Island Wolf. It is a subspecies of Grey Wolf that existed exclusively on Banks Island and Victoria's Island in the Canadian Arctic. The population is believed to have been extinct between the years of 1952 and 1992.

It was officially discovered categorized, and named by zoologist Peter Bernard and his nephew, Joseph F. Bernard after the discovery of skin and skull of the wolf. The sample was taken to the Canadian National Museum. Only three to four specimens of this extinct species have ever been collected.



Bernard's Wolf was a very large animal with a height of 4 feet, and length of 6 feet measuring from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail. Your average horse is 6 feet tall and 7 feet long for a comparison of how large these wolves actually were. A fully grown adult weight ranged from approximately 60 to 110 pounds.


They had a very thick white coat which helped them blend into their surroundings for a hunting advantage over large hoofed animals such as Elk, Deer, and Caribou in the tundra. A characteristic of its thick coat was black tipped fur running down the length of the spine.


Banks Island is a size little over 70,000 km2, the fifth-largest island in Canada. It is the farthest west island of the Canadian Archipelago in the Northwest Territories. Before the extinction on Banks Island, they had existed on Victoria's Island as well, but due to excessive hunting and trapping their numbers were destroyed. The extinction on Victoria's Island happened years before the Banks Island extinction around 1918 and 1952

Map of the Northern Canadian Archipelago
Map of the Northern Canadian Archipelago

Social Structure

Like most wolves, Bernard's Wolf was very social among its pack. They had a large social structure consisting of dominant male and female, breeding couples, and of course the pups. This social structure is said to have been effective in helping to maintain their survival.
Their annual breeding season was between February and March, and approximately 60 days later the female wolves would have anywhere between 4 to 11 pups. Born blind and helpless, it was a responsibility of the entire pack to care for pups. At almost a year the pups were considered fully grown with a life span of anywhere from 6 to 8 years.


Bernard's Wolves were difficult to study as most observations by early explorers of the area were entirely incidental. After Bernard's initial finding, all of the other documented sightings are as follows:

Armstrong in 1857, Stefansson 1921, McEwan 1955, Manning and Macpherson 1958, Wilkinson and Shank 1973, Miller and Russell 1977, Zoltai 1980, McLean and Fraser 1992, Resource Exploration by Beak Consultants Limited 1975. That is a total of 9 confirmed sightings of Bernard's Wolf alive in the wild.

In 1955 to 1959 a total of 44 Bernard's Wolves were poisoned by the Canadian Wildlife Service R.C.M.P. The poisoning is believed to have been due to the low numbers of caribou.

In 1992 Miller suggested that Bernard's Wolf population was approximately 900. However other scientists involved believed the numbers to be far less than that.

How we know they're extinct is the environment section of the government of Northwest Territories did an aerial strip survey between the 19th and 23rd of March, 1993. It covered an area of 22,600km2 of the southern part of Banks Island. The purpose was to create an estimate of Bernard's Wolf numbers, as well as to classify Peary caribou. This area was chosen based on interviews with trappers and hunters to determine where the highest density of the populations would be. No wolves were seen, and no fresh kills were observed.

The last known trade status from hunters and trappers are as follows:

1990 - 7 wolves were purchased from hunters and trappers. 1992 there was 9 in total. 1993 a grand total of 50. This data was collected from Department of Renewable Resources, Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

To read more on the Bernard's Wolf survey conducted in 1993 by the Department of Renewable Resources in the Northwest Territories, click here

Bernard's Wolf approximately, this is not a confirmed photo.
Bernard's Wolf approximately, this is not a confirmed photo.


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