Minute Out In It: The Chase

Minute Out In It: The Chase


My name is Kira Cassidy, and I’m a research associate for the
Yellowstone Wolf Project. Here we’re watching a video of a single wolf
from the Lamar Canyon pack, the alpha female who just recently had pups, hunting a single cow elk in Soda Butte Creek in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. The wolf has already made some contact
with the elk before the video started as you can see by the injury on the back right leg of the elk. And that’s a typical spot for a wolf to grab on to an elk to try and not only slow down the elk but control one of the back legs
so they can avoid being kicked.

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It can be incredibly dangerous to try
and take down an animal that, in the case of a cow elk, may be
five to seven times larger than a pretty large wolf and really their only mode of doing
that is with their teeth. 15% of the collared wolves who’ve died in
Yellowstone National Park have been killed by one of their prey species. In fact, healthy elk of prime age could be considered nearly
invulnerable to wolves. The successful hunts have something wrong with them that we maybe had no idea just by looking
at the animal while it’s alive. Something like a broken bone that’s been healed and calcified over may make that animal
a little bit slower than the rest. Issues with teeth abscesses, where an older animal may wear down their teeth to a point that they’re just chewing on their gum line. Even overgrown hooves, which may cause an animal to be slower than the rest of them. Yellowstone is one of the best places in the world to observe wild wolves. And because of that we get to see these
really amazing behaviors that may occur nearly daily in a wolf’s life, but to be able to see it up close like this is a pretty special situation. Although something like a large predator hunting a large ungulate species can be something that is difficult to watch, because we are able to place ourselves in both of their mindsets, it’s important to remember that these two species, especially here in the Yellowstone ecosystem, evolved together for thousands of years. And the wolf is the speed and the size it is with the adaptations it has because it’s had to keep up with strong elk and fast elk and aggressive elk. And the elk are that way because they’ve had wolves nipping at their heels for thousands of years. It’s really an incredible partnership between elk and wolves.

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