The Undeniable Value of Wolves, Bears, Lions And Coyotes In Battling Disease.
WILL THE FAIRY TALE MENTALITY OF WESTERN STATES AGAINST PREDATORS HAMPER THEIR ABILITY TO SLOW CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE?
For over two decades, Douglas Smith and successive teams of researchers have watched wildlife predators hunting for prey in Yellowstone.
The national park’s senior wolf biologist says there is no mistaking the way that lobos identify and target elk. To the human eye, an individual wapiti might appear perfectly healthy yet there is something—almost a sixth sense— that catches the attention of discriminating pack members searching for their next meal.
It might be an elk with arthritis carrying a slight gimp in its gait, or maybe a hint of winter-worn fatigue, a slowness brought on by advancing old age or illness, or perhaps naïve behavior exhibited by the young.
There is no doubt, based on the accrued record of wolf behavior documented in Yellowstone—and the significant body of scientific accounts logged across the continent—that under normal conditions, wolves key-in on prey that is meek, infirmed or vulnerable.
“Wolves pick up on stuff we can’t see. They are most efficient at exploiting weaknesses in prey because their survival depends on it,” Smith told me recently. “They are predisposed, by instinct and learned behavior, to focus first on animals that are easier to kill rather than those living at the height of their physical strength.”
Does having predators on the landscape—wolves, bears, mountain lions and coyotes— provide a protective gauntlet that can help slow the spread and prevalence of deadly diseases?