Jackson Trio makes some surplus kills.
Soda Butte Pack radio collared in the Hayden Valley.

2-11-99 updates 2-15


As of today, the only wolves on the National Elk Refuge continue to be the "Jackson Trio:" famous "Houdini" escape artist wolf 29M, Thorofare yearling 129F (now almost two years old), and her (likely) sister. 129F is the only wolf with a functioning radio collar.

The Jackson Hole News did a nice page "Meet the Jackson Hole Wolves" on February 10, in which it gives the bio of each of the eleven Jackson Holes wolves and/or packs -- the Jackson Trio, the Teton Duo, and the Soda Butte Pack. While the latter may yet return to Jackson Hole, about 1 1/2 weeks ago the Soda Butte Pack left their new found easy life on the National Elk Refuge, moved back north and returned to the deep snow of their traditional range at Heart Lake in Yellowstone National Park. 

Radio collaring has just been finished for the winter, three members of the Soda Butte pack were captured and then they went even further north. They were captured and collared in the Park's Hayden Valley. Perhaps the Jackson Trio will have the Refuge all to itself. Update: 12-15. Two members of the Trio have been observed mating.

The News also had a story, "Wolves Plan Ahead with 'Surplus' Kills." It seems wolves (probably the Trio) recently killed six elk near Miller Butte. This is the butte on the Refuge just north of Jackson. They only ate two of the elk.

The wolves are not actually stockpiling the elk, although the carcasses will keep in the winter temperature. They were probably engaging the "surplus killing," a term that refers to killing more than they can eat. This sometimes happens in the winter when there is a large population of weakened and vulnerable prey.  It happened to some degree on the northern range of Yellowstone in the starvation winter of 1996-7. Anti-wolf folks argue that surplus killing is the norm, but in fact very few cases of what is clearly surplus killing have been documented. It is more likely to occur with domestic sheep than with large prey.

In Yellowstone, and even on the Elk Refuge, any uneaten elk carcasses are quickly consumed by scavengers-- ravens, coyotes, magpies, etc. In Yellowstone uneaten carcasses mean extra protein for grizzly bears (except during winter hibernation), and they are of aid jto the recovery and continuation of the population of the great bear.

Wolves do not engage in surplus killing when the herds are healthy. Killing large prey is dangerous to wolves. A number of wolves have already been killed by elk, and the number will no doubt increase. Indeed, Ed Bangs was quoted as saying that the incidence of surplus kills would decline over time as the herds became more healthy as wolves over the years picked out the weaker animals. This is the first winter the National Elk Refuge has seen wolves, although a few of the elk may have encountered wolves on the summer range north of Grand Teton National park last summer.

The assumption behind this is that most or all of these elk would not have made it through the winter even in the absence of the wolves.

This has been a fairly mild winter on the Refuge. Supplemental feeding has not yet begun, and perhaps will not this winter. Current estimates are 5000 to 7000 elk are on the Refuge. Perhaps an equal number "winter out" or nearby on various Wyoming Game and Fish winter feedgrounds.

Updates: 12-15. The Soda Butte Pack has approached as close as 1/4 mile to the Crystal Creek Pack inside Yellowstone. The most common explanation for their seemingly odd behavior is that the alpha female, 14F, and maybe 44F (her daughter from 1996) are looking for mates.  It is the tail end of mating season.

The Elk Refuge began supplemental feeding of elk today 12-15.
 


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