Wolves have become a hot button issue in conservation since reintroduction in the 90s. People in cities want them to be left alone while hunters and farmers are left dealing with the fallout from all the animals they kill and eat.
New research studied data from 150 lions over a 16 year period in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. They found that wolves have decimated the lion population by cutting it in half!
“Our question was really clean. We know the cats declined — that’s not up for debate — but what caused it? Is it human hunting? Is it declining elk numbers? Or is it increasing wolves?” Mark Elbroch, mountain lion biologist, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide, “The answer we have the most support for, is it was increasing wolves.”
The research showed that wolves reduced the population in two main ways. They reduced elk and other food sources for lions less accessible. Wolves are also targeting kittens as a food source, including killing all kittens that were tracked in 2014.
A declining food source is not only lowering Mountain lion numbers, but it’s also leading to more attacks on humans. A string of mountain lion attacks on humans has come from older male lions that do not have food to eat. A hiker on a trail becomes an easier target than an elk. Last year Jim Shockey was attacked by an older male lion that was starving to death.
The reintroduction of wolves has had effects on the environment that many did not see coming. Hunting should help balance the population as that has been a proven method for over 120 years.