Saturday, February 21, 2009

Humans and Wolves, or Is It Wolves and Humans?

Wolves seem to be in the news. So much so that it isn't really news anymore. Still, some elements of wolf reintroduction go under media radar.

Some time back, while researching a story on a wolf pack, I was digging through thousands of slides at the headquarters for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I came across one that seemed out of place. A lone domestic calf was standing in front of some plastic snow fence wearing a backpack, like he was going camping.
Calf with his battery pack and signaling device. Wolves killed the calf after he became playfl with them. (USFWS photo)
Later, I asked Ed Bangs and Joe Fontaine about the photo. Bangs is the top man for wolf reintroduction in the northern Rockies. Fontaine was the number two man. Since then Fontaine has moved on to other things.

What follows is an excerpt from an in-house "book" I did on a pack of wolves. The people I wrote it for didn't want any publicity, so I will not mention them by name.

The later half of the 1990s brought activity to Yellowstone Park. Wolves that were trapped in Canada were released to Idaho and Wyoming in January 1995 and January 1996.

The combination of more wolves and more wolf/livestock incidents brought attempts to reduce conflicts. USFWS, USFS and Ted Turner teamed up to experiment with teaching wolves to avoid domestic cattle. They believed that since wolves were social animals, some could be taught to fear cattle and then be turned loose in the wild to teach that fear.

They fit a domestic calf with a battery pack and signaling device similar in function to underground dog fences--the type that shocks a dog if he approaches. The calf was placed in an enclosure of several acres. The enclosure also contained a few wolves that had been fitted with shock collars tuned to the frequency of the calf's back pack.

Being animals, no one knows what the wolves or calf thought, but initially they avoided each other. As the days wore on, the calf became lonely and tried to bed closer to the wolves. The wolves shied away. The experiment ended badly for the calf when one wolf and the calf were face-to-face., but out of distance of the shock signal.

The calf wanted to play and attempted to butt the wolf with his head. The combination of being attacked by the calf and the resulting shock of the collar caused the wolf to lunge at the calf--killing the calf instantly, regardless of the continuing shock.

End of Experiment.

It is strange what humans will do to make poor situations more palatable. Even after the shock, the wolf probably found the calf very palatable.

Wolf populations have grown and continue to grow. Only now have wildlife enthusiasts noticed that not only do wolves eat domestic sheep and beef, but they also eat a lot of wildlife.

If people want enough wolves, lions and bears (oh my) so that everyone visiting Montana can see one, we will have to import more food for them.

1 comment:

gary said...

Great blog Dennis. Folks beyond the effected area have no clue as to what is going on here. Our elk hunting area has been drastically effected the last 5-6 years and its very discouraging. To try change the inbred ferocity and meat killing machine personality of the wolves is almost laughable. Let us make a gentler kinder wolf - good luck, they are what they are and unfortunatly they are very good at what they do.