A Wildlife Article from All-Creatures.org

Wolf Packs Suffer When Humans Kill Their Leaders

From Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
January 2023

A study shows how humans cause wolf packs to become less stable and fall apart.

Wolf pack
Patrice Schoefolt Pexels

A new study shows that when people kill wolves, their pack becomes less stable and can disband and cease to exist.

The study suggests that moving wolves from one place to another can lead to disruptions in packs from which wolves were taken.

Larger packs were better able to recover from human-caused intrusions than smaller packs.
The well-being of groups of animals and individuals must be protected.

Wolves are amazing and magnificent carnivores. They are highly social, pack-living animals whose numbers have been decimated globally because of their predatory ways.

While it's been known that human intrusions into their lives can affect their behavior, a new, landmark study–called "one of the most important papers to come out of Yellowstone in his 28 years with the park" by Doug Smith, one of the world's leading wolf experts who led Yellowstone's wolf reintroduction for many years–shows that when people kill wolves their pack becomes less stable and can disband and cease to exist.1

Details of this seminal research can be found in an open-access essay by Kira Cassidy, a research associate with the Yellowstone Wolf Project, and her colleagues, called "Human-Caused Mortality Triggers Pack Instability in Gray Wolves."2,3 Not only do groups suffer, but individuals do as well.

The database for this new study is massive: the researchers analyzed more than 118 years of cumulative data from five national parks, all within the historical and current gray wolf range in the United States. The parks included Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Voyageurs National Parks, Denali National Park Preserve, and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.


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