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Wolves adjust to Yellowstone faster than expected

wolf February 24, 1997
Web posted at: 9:39 p.m. EST (0239 GMT)

From Correspondent Don Knapp

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming (CNN) -- A dozen wolves trotting around a snowy adjustment pen in the center of the Yellowstone National Park may be the last to be released under the wolf reintroduction program.

It was just two years ago that biologists released the first wolves to roam the park in nearly 70 years. The Canadian wolves adapted so well and multiplied so quickly, they may soon get themselves off the Endangered Species List.


"We're ahead of schedule and under budget," said Douglas Smith, a wolf biologist with the park. "We have more packs now than we thought we'd have in two years. The wolves reproduced earlier than we expected, and there have been fewer livestock kills than was expected."

In the late 1920s, government bounty hunters wiped out the park's last native wolves as part of a national wolf extermination program designed to protect ranchers' livestock.

The parents of the latest batch of wolves to be introduced were killed after preying on cattle in Montana. Biologists brought the pups to Yellowstone.


"These animals themselves have not killed livestock, and don't know how," Smith said. "They'll learn how to kill wild prey from these older wolves that we're putting them with."

The wolf's return to the park may help control other wildlife populations.

"Wolves were the only animal missing from Yellowstone, and now that they're back, the whole ecosystem is really back together," Smith said.

Yellowstone's brutally cold winter helps assure survival for the newly re-introduced wolves. Dead or weakened deer, elk and other herd animals make easy picking for the hungry newcomers.


But some ranchers worry this year's bountiful winter for wolves may eventually mean danger for cattle.

"What happens next year? Say the population crashes for elk and bison both, and the population of wolves, as a consequence, increases," said rancher Brian Severin.

"Now we start getting worried, because what happens when those elk are farther away and hard to catch and our calves look pretty good to them?"


Privately funded programs pay ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.

"They're wolves. They're wild creatures. They do cause problems. They're not tame pets," said Mike Clark of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

If the day comes when its necessary to open a hunting season on wolves outside the park, biologists say they'll call the re-introduction a success.


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