Saturday morning, a contractor bringing hay to an elk feedground discovered 19 elk that were killed by wolves, but were left by the predators without being eaten. I’ve seen plenty of arguments on both sides of the issue on social media over the last few days. The moment it was reported, people who vehemently oppose the reintroduction of wolves have been saying “I told you so.” The fact that the nine wolves in the Rim Pack killed 19 elk and didn’t eat any of them reinforce the belief that wolves will kill for “sport.” On the other side of the argument, wolf advocates say humans had to have chased the wolves off the kills before they could eat them.
But both sides need to take a deep breath. Wolves don’t target only the weak, the sick, or the old. They kill whatever they can catch. In this case, the elk were on a feedground. To a wild wolf, a feedground is basically a smorgasbord. On the other hand, wolves don’t kill for sport. They sometimes do kill more than they will ever eat, but whether it’s practice or simply opportunity, we may never know. The good news is that “surplus killings” like this one are fairly rare. Some biologists think wolves kill extra animals, if they can bring them down, so that they can cache the kills for later. Surplus kills tend to occur most often when it’s cold and snowy, and the weather slows the spoiling of the meat.
But even if that’s the case, 19 elk are way more than the nine wolves in the Rim Pack would ever be able to eat. Yes, it’s unfortunate, and yes, it will have an impact on hunting seasons this coming fall. But nature isn’t always pretty.
Wolves are not fluffy, sweet, overgrown dogs. They’re highly evolved killing machines. But they’re not demons, either. I just wish the Feds would allow Wyoming to start managing them the way they need to be managed – with a well-regulated hunting season.