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Killing Wolves Ruins Research in Yellowstone

Hunters killing these carnivores are negatively impacting long-term studies.

Wolves are amazing social carnivores who have been targeted and wantonly killed for years on end because they supposedly are dangerous to humans and to livestock, despite the fact that there have been only two known fatal attacks by wolves on humans in North America and they really do extremely little damage to livestock. Indeed, a recent study showed that sheep predation could be greatly reduced without killing wolves. As I wrote in another essay, it seems that some people simply enjoy torturing and killing wolves and perhaps other animals

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Now, it's pretty much an open season on descendants of the wolves who were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s. While there are numerous ethical concerns about the wanton and heinous killing of wild animals including wolves, one of the outcomes of the killing of the Yellowstone wolves is a strongly negative effect on long-term research on these predators who very rarely attack humans or livestock and who are vital to the health and the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live.

Wildlife biologist Douglas Smith, leader of Yellowstone's wolf project, which has tracked the wolves since their reintroduction in 1995 notes, "'Losing the wolves has been a big hit to us scientifically' ...The killings came just as researchers, who are partly funded by a 5-year U.S. National Science Foundation grant, were set to begin the wolf project's annual winter survey of the canids' predatory habits." Having been up there during this time period I know that the loss of these data is a significant blow to the on-going studies that are collecting new and very important information. 

For example, the killing of wolves will surely affect their social structure and pack stability and also "have a big impact on both the park's research project and numerous other independent studies investigating a variety of issues, such as elk management and ecology. The collars [on the wolves] collect data intended to help wildlife managers better understand wolf behavior, particularly the canids' effect on elk. And unless a wolf is wearing a collar, researchers say they can't be sure that it is an animal that uses the park."

Getting out of the kill, reintroduce, and kill cycle

I call your attention to these wolf killings because of their negative impacts on the ongoing excellent research projects, because wolves are not the killing machines they're made out to be, because of the many ethical issues that are raised, and also because our taxes are used to fund these sorts of projects. And, it's not unlikely that someday wolves will once again be gone from Yellowstone and all of the time, person power, and money that went into their reintroduction and learning about them will be lost and someone will suggest something like, "Let's get wolves back into Yellowstone." And the kill, reintroduce, kill cycle begins once again. 

We need to get out of this cycle, and now is a good time to do it. Please contact Yellowstone National Park officials including Dan Hottle (307-344-2015), a park spokesperson who thinks that the wolf killings will not "adversely affect our ecosystem." The scientists who actually have studied and know these wolves strongly disagree.

You can also send comments here

The teaser image by Doug McLaughlin/Courtesy William Ripple can be found here.  

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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