Jun 29, 2015

Alpha female and cow elk square off in new Yellowstone video

Trying to take down an elk can be a difficult, dangerous proposition for a wolf, says a new educational video from Yellowstone National Park.

Of the wolves collared by researchers, 15 percent of the animals who've died in Yellowstone have died at the hands of their would-be prey, according to Yellowstone Wolf Project research cited in the park's Monday video. 

“In fact, healthy elk of prime age could be considered nearly invulnerable to wolves,” says wolf project research associate Kira Cassidy in narrating the clip. “The successful hunts (elk killed by wolves) have something wrong with them that we maybe had no idea just by looking at the animal while it's alive.”

The difference between an elk dying or surviving could something as small as a broken bone that didn’t heal quite right, overgrown hooves or tooth problems, Cassidy says.

Her narration is laid over a dramatic video of an alpha female from the Lamar Canyon wolf pack hunting a cow elk in and around Soda Butte Creek, in Yellowstone's northeastern corner.

At the time the video picks up the action, the elk is already missing a chunk from one of its hind legs.

“That’s a typical spot for a wolf to grab on to an elk to try and not only slow down the elk, but control one of the back legs so they can avoid being kicked,” Cassidy explains. “It can be incredibly dangerous to try and take down an animal that, in the case of a cow elk, may be five to seven times larger than a pretty large wolf.”

She says in the video that it's important to remember wolves and elk have evolved together for thousands of years with wolves working to keep up with strong, fast and aggressive elk, and elk trying to outpace the wolves nipping at their heels.

SPOILER: Things don't end well for the elk.
“It's really an incredible partnership between elk and wolves,” Cassidy says.

A postscript to the park service-produced video says that while the wolf ultimately won this battle, only 5 to 10 percent of wolf hunts are successful, on average.


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