All For One and One For all?
is the first in a series of articles in The Wildlife Volunteer about
wildlife species, especially predators, that cooperate.
The focus will be mainly on group hunting behaviors.
have fascinated humans since prehistoric times.
Ancient peoples observed wolves in all kinds of settings as both
wolves and humans occupied most of Asia, Europe and North America.
The wolf was once the most widely distributed land mammal in the
world. Locked in an often
losing battle with humans, wolves gradually vanished from much of their
former ranges. But even today,
wolves are still fairly abundant in Greece and Spain, China, Russia and
many other areas where they were systematically persecuted for thousands
of years. Wolf numbers are
stable or increasing in much of Canada and in a few northern states of the
U.S. Wolves are becoming more
widespread and abundant in the Upper Midwest, including Northern Michigan.
hunting large prey, like caribou in the tundra, that are capable of
fighting-off or out-running a solitary wolf, a
pack of wolves usually moves in single-file until the prey is seen or
smelled. Then, individual
wolves seem to play different roles. Some
follow or approach the prey, others might circle to effectively “herd”
multiple animals, and a few wolves (often young ones with little hunting
experience) may stand back or even lie down.
If a long chase occurs one or two wolves may run past the prey to
wait in ambush. Once an animal
is targeted for attack, a single wolf often tries for a killing bite at
the throat or head while another wolf or two comes in from behind to
disable the back legs of the prey. Over
thousands of years, humans watching this type of behavior have often
referred to the initial frontal attack as the “decoy attack.”
They further assumed wolves hunt by a true group strategy, implying
planning and communication.
film-makers perpetuate this notion, but most scientists and other keen
observers don’t believe that hunting by wolf packs involves formal
planning. Rather, the hunt
unfolds based on reactions and learned behaviors honed by millions of
years of evolution. There are
no communicated instructions. Each
wolf responds to the changing situation, seizing opportunities based on
lay-of-the-land, what the other wolves do, and how the prey reacts.
What happened on previous attempts certainly is remembered by each
individual wolf, and influences its role in the outcome.
In open areas like the Arctic tundra, wolf packs bring down an
animal in about one in ten attempts, so there is plenty of learning from
behaviors among wolves are strikingly similar to those of primitive human
hunting groups. Anthropologists
studying tribal hunters of caribou in Canada have noted that hunters often
move out from a camp walking “like wolves” at a steady pace.
Then, without communicating, each hunter studies the situation and
makes up his mind about how to attack.
He watches both the prey and the other hunters, remembers previous
encounters, and decides if and when to seize an opportunity or give up the
attempt. Although each
individual acts in his own best interests, there are undoubtedly social
pressures to “carry your own weight” as a human hunter. No
doubt nature also finds a way to reward the wolf that plays an important
role in a kill and to penalize the non-participants.
the vast areas inhabited by wolves, large prey species range from the
previously-mentioned caribou to deer, elk, moose, wild boars, musk-oxen,
bison and a host of other animals that can deliver disabling and/or fatal
wounds to an over-aggressive wolf. So,
it is important for individual animals to know when to stop a chase—when
it is too risky or just not worth the effort. How
they decide, we do not know.
few years ago, I was searching a remote stretch of Lake Michigan beach for
cougar sign with retired DNR forester Mike Zuidema, of Escanaba.
We spotted a deer over a mile away struggling to run toward us in
the surf of Lake Michigan. We
stood still and watched with binoculars; the exhausted deer eventually ran
past us, went another half-mile and finally ran ashore and into the woods.
Tracks told the story. About
two miles up the beach we found tracks of a lone wolf as well as the deer.
Signs of the chase were clear.
The deer had escaped by running out into the surf.
The wolf had followed, but came out of the water a few hundred
yards from where it had entered. The
wolf then ran along the beach, parallel and (likely) within about 40 yards
from the deer, for about a half-mile before giving up the chase.
The wolf may have seen us in the distance since his track pattern
revealed a fast exit from the area.
a wolf pack have reacted differently to the deer’s watery escape tactic?
The situation clearly called for a little team-work—a couple of
wolves running ahead and waiting in ambush might have done the trick.
But then how would the deer have responded?
It’s the kind of thing humans have pondered for millennia and we
still don’t fully understand today.
Patrick J. Rusz
of Wildlife Programs
Pup in Lower Peninsula
late July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Branch
trapped a wolf pup in Cheboygan County.
Traps had been set after the DNRE received evidence from citizens
earlier in the year of a wolf pack in the area.
Researchers had hoped to trap an adult wolf and fit it with a
radio-collar so they could monitor the distribution, activities and
numbers of wolves in the Lower Peninsula.
The 23-pound pup they eventually captured was not seriously harmed,
was in good health, and was released after being ear-tagged for later
capture represented the first physical evidence of wolf breeding in the
Lower Peninsula since the early 1900s, although citizens have reported
wolves in the Lower Peninsula for many years.
In a press release, the DNRE stated “it underscores why Michigan
needs full authority to manage these animals as they begin to expand
across this state.” Currently,
wolves are federally-listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, and the DNRE does not have full management authority
over wolves anywhere in Michigan.
officials will continue to monitor wolves in Michigan.
Meanwhile, the public has many misconceptions about the species.
Among those are the assumption that wolves won’t move south
because they require wilderness and vast forests.
Actually, wolves do best in landscapes with lots of open areas.
There is no biological reason why wolves can’t thrive in the
farmlands of Southern Michigan as well as Cheboygan County.
Whether people will tolerate wolves throughout the Lower Peninsula
is the big question.
Copyright 2013, Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.
PO Box 393, Bath, MI 48808
Phone: 517-641-7677 Fax: 517-641-7877 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org