CASPER, Wyo. — Yellowstone officials say that winter is a good time time to spot wolves in the park “because snow cover makes wolves stand out from the vegetation.”
“Carcasses will not only feed wolves, but many other bird and mammal scavengers,” Yellowstone said on Monday, Dec. 16.
There were 80 wolves between nine packs in a December 2018 count. That dropped to 61 wolves in eight packs as of April 1, 2019.
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“In general, wolf numbers have fluctuated between 83 and 108 wolves since 2009,” Yellowstone says.
The Greate Yellowstone Ecosystem had an estimated 528 wolves overall as of 2015.
The winter diet of Yellowstone wolves has seen changes over the years.
“From 1995 to 2000, in early winter, elk calves comprised 50% of wolf prey, and bull elk comprised 25%,” Yellowstone says. “That ratio reversed from 2001 to 2007, indicating changes in prey vulnerability and availability.”
“The discovery of this change emphasizes the importance of long-term monitoring to understand predator-prey dynamics. Changes in wolf predation patterns and impacts on prey species like elk are inextricably linked to other factors, such as other predators, management of ungulates outside the park, and weather (e.g. drought, winter severity).”
The National Park Service is looking at how weather patterns affects wolf predation.
“Weather patterns influence forage quality and availability, ultimately impacting elk nutritional condition,” they say. “Consequently, changes in prey selection and kill rates through time result from complex interactions among these factors. Current NPS research focuses on the relative factors driving wolf predation over the past two decades.”
Yellowstone says that the northern part of the park is the best place to view wolves, though they are active in all areas. Wolves show peak activity around dawn and dusk.
“Wolves are not normally a danger to humans, unless humans habituate them by providing them with food,” Yellowstone says. “No wolf has attacked a human in Yellowstone, but a few attacks have occurred in other places.”
“Like coyotes, wolves can quickly learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food. This can lead to aggressive behavior toward humans.”
Yellowstone says that people should follow these tips to ensure safety:
- Never feed a wolf or any other wildlife. Do not leave food or garbage outside unattended. Make sure the door is shut on a garbage can or dumpster after you deposit a bag of trash.
- Treat wolves with the same respect you give any other wild animal. If you see a wolf, do not approach it.
- Never leave small children unattended.
- If you have a dog, keep it leashed.
- If you are concerned about a wolf—it’s too close, not showing sufficient fear of humans, etc., do not run. Stop, stand tall, watch what the wolf is going to do. If it approaches, wave your arms, yell, flare your jacket, and if it continues, throw something at it or use bear pepper spray. Group up with other people, continue waving and yelling.
- Report the presence of wolves near developed areas or any wolf behaving strangely.
“To date, eight wolves in Yellowstone National Park have become habituated to humans,” the park adds. “Biologists successfully conducted aversive conditioning on some of them to discourage being close to humans, but two have had to be killed.”