How killing wolves to protect livestock may backfire
A couple of years ago, biologists from Washington State University found that killing a wolf to rid a threat to livestock actually increased the chances that cattle or sheep would be killed in the following year. Only eliminating a quarter or more of the wolves in a state resulted in declines in wolves killing livestock.
Ranchers have long killed wolves to protect their animals, but the study’s results seemed to show that the practice might not be as productive as they’d like. Now a new study of wolves in the Italian Alps shows why keeping packs together could be a good move for ranchers.
Camille Imbert of the University of Pavia in Italy and colleagues wanted to know why wolves kill livestock instead of wild prey. Sheep or cattle might look like an easy meal to us, but that may not be true for wolves. And even if a goat was easy to catch, that might not be a wolf’s sole consideration when looking for something to eat....
....Wolves that belonged to packs tended to eat more wild boar and roe deer and less goat and other livestock than did single wolves, the researchers report in the March Biological Conservation. Lone wolves — either young wolves that are moving to new territory or the former members of a pack that has been broken up (say, when the leaders were killed) — may not know as well what prey is available in an area as the resident pack and may therefore hunt whatever is available, Imbert and her colleagues write. Packs, it seems, can be pickier and go for wild prey when it’s available.