Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wolves, some info

The wolves were introduced into Yellowstone in 1995. At the peak there were well over 100 wolves. But in recent years the population has declined to about 80. The official count isn't until the end of 2009. The same has happened with the major prey, the elk. There were some 19,000 elk in the northern range in the late 90,s and now the count is down to 9,000. It is possible that an equilibrium is being reached. Most of the deaths this year have been from other wolves, probably 13 wolves killed that way. The browse of willow and aspen that was depleted from the high number of elk is starting to recover which brings in other animals such as the beaver. To give an idea of the capacity of a wolf, their stomach can hold 20 pounds of meat. But they do not usually eat that much. Also, the teeth of the wolf are only designed to bite and tear. They can't chew, so they have to depend on the canine diet of meat. There are different studies of the Yellowstone wolves, in fact one individual, Rich, has been watching wolves in this Northern Range of Yellowstone for 9 years and 5 months, every day of the year, without a break. The Park has what is called the winter study going on right now and another in the spring. They track the wolves from the ground as well as from the air. The radio collars enable the studies to get data that would be very difficult to obtain otherwise. So they know for instance that the major prey is the elk and the elk who are killed are mainly the older and diseased animals. We are learning a lot about the ecology of this area as well as seeing many different birds and animals. But right now we are dealing with a cold spell, the official low yesterday was a minus 22 and the high was minus 6 Fahrenheit. Too chilly to be enjoyable. More later, Steve

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