Posts tagged ‘wolves’
The field hunting dog training season has started and Wisconsin DNR is publicizing their online resources on wolf depredation on dogs. Now that more than 300 wolves currently live in Wisconsin and about 3,000 live here in Minnesota it’s become an issue responsible dog owners need to keep in mind.
Nine dogs have been reported as killed by wolves in Wisconsin so far this year. Just five such events occurred during the same time frame last year and only one dog was killed in the first six months of 2008. Events occurred in rural areas scattered across the northern part of the state and a different pack is believed to have been responsible for each incident.
DNR reports that hounds used to hunt coyotes, bear, bobcats, and raccoons run the greatest risk of being attacked because they range far from their owners. Some also believe that the hounds’ baying attracts (or annoys) wolves. Most depredation reportedly occurs in the summer rendezvous period that runs from July through September. The 2008 and 2009 data corroborate this.
Keep your hunting dog safe by avoiding wolf dens and rendezvous sites, staying close to your dogs and belling them, (only one belled dog is known to have been attacked by wolves). You can track depredation activity by subscribing to Wisconsin DNR’s wolf depredation email alerts here.
The DNR’s Guide for Reducing Conflicts Between Wolves and Hunting Dogs is also available on line. The guide includes helpful information on how to avoid conflicts, identify wolf sign and report incidents.
It’s great that wolf populations are increasing but more wolves means more potential encounters between wolves and civilization. Husband and I spend a lot of time hiking in the woods of the upper Midwest and we’ve had one wolf encounter. We were hiking near the Black River on the south shore of Lake Superior with three off leash dogs when we came across a lone wolf. As soon as they saw the wolf (and they saw it before we did) our Leonbergers quietly and calmly stepped in between the wolf and I. They didn’t bark, run or lunge. They simply stood at alert and blocked the wolf (who was about 75 feet away) until it disappeared.
If wolves live in your area follow these rules to avoid conflicts.
- Let your pets sleep inside unless they’re protected by a sturdy enclosure .
- Don’t put out food for deer or other wildlife near your home.
- Don’t feed your pets outside.
- Keep garbage, compost and other waste in well secured containers.
- Keep your dog on a leash on all walks unless he has a solid recall. If your dog has good obedience skills it is still important to keep in him sight.
As I’ve written here before it’s also important to avoid and properly manage gut piles.
Wildlife Science Center Director Peggy Callahan said two of the wolves were found on shelter grounds following the overnight incident, but one animal found its way into the adjoining Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. The female wolf was tracked to an area east of Coon Lake but the trail was lost in an neighborhood near Interlachen Drive.
Callahan said she suspects the break-in was an organized effort to release the animals.
Not only did these morons “free” captive-raised animals who probably can’t survive on their own, they released them from a facility that has been recognized for its efforts to save this very species. A group that has itself released 59 Mexican gray wolves into appropriate wild environments (which, by the way, do not include Minnesota) in the last twelve years.
The Mexican gray wolves are native to the American southwest and are part of a federal government reintroduction program. The Wildlife Science Center houses the Mexican Grey wolves for study along with a variety of other wolves and other species including bears, cougars, lynx and fox.
Callahan said someone used a pry bar to force open the center’s perimeter gate off Broadway Avenue and then pried open a wolf enclosure releasing the three wolves.
With a bit of luck the remaining wolf will be caught and returned to the center before she becomes roadkill or starves to death. And the clueless twits who released her will be found and prosecuted.
But they don’t see what you mean…
In September of this year Animal Cognition published a study on how the dingo’s ability to understand human gestural cues compares to the skills of domestic dogs and wolves. A poster summarizing the study is available at this link.
In a nutshell, Smith and Litchfield state that others have demonstrated that domestic dogs are very good at correctly interpreting a wide range of human gestural cues. Dogs are far better at these kinds of tasks than apes or wild wolves. Human-raised wolves perform better than wild wolves, but not nearly as well as dogs.
This led many to wonder if dogs acquired their unique ability to understand humans during the process of domestication.
Dingoes evolved from village dogs, but they’ve lived as a separate, free-ranging species for 3500–5000 years. Smith and Litchfield believed that the dingo’s unique evolutionary heritage could make them an interesting subject to assess the potential effect of domestication on human-canine communication. So they tested seven tame, captive dingoes to see how their performance on a series of nine object choice exercises would compare to that of dogs, wild wolves and human-raised wolves.
Generally speaking, the dingoes did better than wolves, but not as well as dogs. The gaze cue tests provided some of the most interesting results, dogs consistently excel at interpreting human gaze cues. Dingoes apparently don’t.
I didn’t have access to the full text of the study, but I think it would be interesting to see how the tabulated results compared to similar work that’s been done with apes; and with domestic versus wild wolves.
Smith and Litchfield’s work appears to support the idea that domestic dogs acquired their unique ability to understand human gestural cues during the process of domestication. The fact that gaze is the first area where these skills appear to have deteriorated may reflect that this was a skill that developed later — or it may just be that since wild dingoes generally avoid close contact with humans, they no longer needed these skills so they were no longer selected for in the dingo gene pool. Maintaining the ability to interpret hand, arm and body gestures (which, unlike gaze cues, are visible at a distance) may still provide advantages to dingoes in avoiding danger from humans and to scavenge food from them.
Zip, who is not a dingo, meets and follows my gaze
The International Wolf Center (IWC) reports that approximately 2,450 wolves lived in Minnesota in 1997-1998 (the most recent year I could find data for). The IWC states that wolf populations in Minnesota are currently increasing at a rate of 3-4.5% per year, giving a current (2009) population of 3,000-4,000 wolves.
According to Minnesota DNR, about a million deer live in Minnesota. Human hunters currently harvest over 200,000 of them each year. The IWC reports that “On average, each wolf kills an estimated 15-20 adult-sized deer or their equivalent per year.” This means that wolves harvest 45,000 – 70,000 deer each year.
U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the human population of Minnesota is currently about 5.2 million. The human population is increasing at a rate of 4-4.6% per year, slightly faster than the wolf population.
More wolves plus more people equals a lot more opportunities for wolves to become habituated to people. While most of Minnesota’s wolf population lives in the northern part of the state where human population density is still low, one situation where habituation can occur may be creating a threat to both species.
A gut pile is part of any successful deer hunt by humans. Minnesota DNR regulations state that:
Hunters who process their own deer may not dispose of carcasses on public land, including wildlife management areas, state forests, road rights of way or in any water body. Deer carcasses may be disposed of in the following ways:
• On private land with the permission of the landowner.
• Through your refuse hauler after checking on how to properly bag the
• At a local landfill.
But as someone who has spent a lot of time hiking in the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I can assure you that far too many hunters adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy when it comes to carcass disposal. After they’ve packed the meat they want out of the woods, a lot of hunters find it easy to “forget” about that gut pile. Especially when getting rid of it properly can mean hours of “pointless,” messy labor. So it’s frustrating, but not surprising, to find that gut piles and carcasses are a regular sight along backroads and wooded areas during deer season.
According to this article in the Detroit News, Wisconsin wolf biologist Adrian Wydevan sees a problem in this trend:
Wydeven said a wolf pack near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border learned to associate the sound of gun shots with food from gut piles. When Minnesota’s hunting season started, they lived in Minnesota. When Wisconsin’s hunting season started, the wolves were in Wisconsin. If you shoot a deer in the afternoon, have a headlamp and be prepared to field dress and remove the animal. If you don’t, the wolves might.
Could increasing habituation of wolves to humans combined with packs of wolves who become conditioned to see gut piles as the vulpine lupine equivalent of fast food, eventually make the northwoods a more dangerous place for deer hunters (and other outsdoorsmen) in the upper midwest?
If a recent news report is true – it’s already happening. Last week the StarTribune reported:
The wolves appeared shortly after Scott Wundinich shot and gutted a deer, then climbed back into his stand.
“Four or five, including a pitch-black male, came running out of the woods together,” recalled Wundinich, 48, of Eveleth, Minn. “I looked to my left and saw three more. There were three or four more on my other side. I was stunned. I yelled and screamed, but they pretty much ignored me. They paced back and forth. They wanted my deer and the gut pile.”
Despite firing several shots to try to scare away the wolves, they lurked, sometimes howling and barking, about 50 yards from Wundinich’s stand for 45 minutes.
Wundinich stayed in safety of his tree stand until it was dark. Still able to hear the wolves, but desperate to escape, he climbed down with a still-loaded rifle, bolted for his ATV, and raced out of the woods (it isn’t legal to operate an ATV in the woods between sunrise and sunset during hunting season). I’m sure he was glad to leave the deer behind, and I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to wait until dark.
Wildlife officials say the encounter with wolves was unusual. But Wundinich and others, including some northern Minnesota conservation officers, say such encounters and sightings there are becoming more common.
“I’d say almost 50 percent of the deer camps I’ve checked have said they’ve seen wolves,” said Dan Starr, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer in Tower. “That has increased. They [wolves] are getting pretty bold.”
Wild wolves usually flee from people, even around food. And wolf attacks on humans are exceptionally rare. Somehow, I doubt that Wundinich found this thought comforting. When the wolves approached his deer:
He stood up and made noise. “They scampered off a bit, but it didn’t scare them,” he said. He shot his 30.06 rifle twice in the air. “They ran about 45 yards away on top of a hill and started howling.” Unsure what to do, he used his cell phone to call his dad at the cabin, who told him to call Starr, the local conservation officer, whom Wundinich knows.
“He [Starr] said fire some shots to scare them. I told him I had done that,” Wundinich said. “He said to leave the deer.”
Wundinich and his nephew later returned to retrieve the deer later that night – armed with rifles.
“The gut pile was mostly gone and they bit into the hindquarters and neck and chewed on an ear,” he said.
Wundinich said he was reluctant to tell anyone about the experience because he feared no one would believe him. Starr, however, mentioned the incident in his weekly report, which is distributed to news media. He said he has no reason to doubt Wundinich’s story.
According to wolf expert David Mech, deer and moose are the main prey of wolves in the area where the incident happened.
While it isn’t legal to hunt wolves in Minnesota, Wundinich could legally have shot any wolves that attacked him. If he was correct that ten or more of them were attracted to his deer carcass, he was probably wise to stay up in his stand and try to drive them off.
To protect their own safety, hunters need to be more responsible about gut pile disposal. Carcasses and gut piles along roads attract wildlife to traffic areas – a situation that is frequently lethal to scavengers. When they’re left in wooded areas, they teach wolves and other scavengers to associate gunfire and the scent of humans with easy food. And that can create situations that are potentially lethal to humans and wolves.
Responsible use of wild lands isn’t always convenient in the short run – but if we’re going to co-exist with wildlife we need to take responsibility for our actions. Teaching wild animals of any kind that people are a safe and easy source of food is a bad idea. Once they’ve become lost their fear of humans, it can be very difficult to re-instill a safe and sensible sense of fear back into animals.
Deer season ended a week ago, but I just shot this pretty buck in my backyard.
He had a healthy sense of fear, and I had to use a long lens.
No, that kind of pointless angst is reserved for intellectually over-indulgent species like humans. But, contrary to common myth, wild wolves don’t necessarily live hard and die young either. Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wolf Project leader at the Yellowstone Center for Resources was recently quoted in Minnesota Daily; “Through mythology and fables, we want wolves to be a certain way and that is supremely good at killing,” he said. “It turns out they’re subject to the same problems we’re subject to. You get old quick.”
Although most wolves in Yellowstone National Park live to be nearly six years old, their ability to kill prey peaks when they are two to three, according to a study led by Dan MacNulty and recently published online by Ecology Letters.
As is the case with human beings, physiology appears to be an important factor. Wolves need to have speed, strength and endurance to hunt successfully – and these qualities diminish with age. This leads to some interesting economic parallels between our world and the world of the wolf:
When older wolves can no longer hunt successfully, younger wolves share their kill with them, in what MacNulty describes as a lupine version of Social Security. While a high ratio of old-to-young wolves may benefit elk, it could strain the wolf population because there aren’t enough workers to support retirees.
Montana legalized hunting wolves after they were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Although hunting is prohibited in the park, packs wander beyond it boundaries and radio-marked wolves have been killed. MacNulty says hunting won’t put the species at risk, but it actually skews the population towards younger wolves, which could mean more deaths, not fewer, for the elk.
As quoted in BBC News MacNulty notes that aging in wild animals has (surprisingly) been a controversial subject:
“Although the effects of aging on physical performance in humans are well-known, the effects of aging in wild animal populations have been controversial,” says Dr Daniel MacNulty of the Michigan Technological University in Houghton, US.
“Many eminent biologists have argued that ageing rarely occurs in nature, because animals do not live long enough to exhibit its effects.”
“My study refutes this notion as well as demonstrates that aging may have important ecological consequences in terms of how a wild population uses its environment,” he says.
Wolves are brilliant cooperative hunters. Younger pack members supply speed and endurance to the chase - and older ones the wisdom they’ve acquired over years of experience. I look forward to seeing more on how hunting affects the balance of old versus young members of wolf packs and how that, in turn, affects populations of their prey species. If young wolves help feed older ones, and if wolves only kill what they need to eat, I’m not clear on exactly how a higher percentage of young pack members acts to decrease elk populations. Intuitively it would just seem to mean that the young wolves don’t have to work as hard to feed themselves, and if hunting pressure continues to keep wolf numbers stable it isn’t obvious (at least to me) that elk numbers would be greatly affected.
I’d also like to know more about what kinds of wolves hunters look for. Tropy elk are pretty easy to identify from a distance, but it can’t be easy to get close enough to a wolf to tell its gender or, in many cases, its age. Do hunters typically look for the biggest wolf, the one with the nicest pelt - or the easiest one to take down? And how do ranchers who want to limit predation fit into the equation?
It seems that today I’ve got more questions than answers.
WDIO Duluth reports:
Linda Ziegler says she let her 5-year-old dachshund, Jenny, outside just before noon last Thursday. Ziegler was standing on her front steps when two timber wolves appeared.
“The minute they spotted her, well that was the end,” said Linda. “They went right after her and they killed her. And they were carrying her around the yard and there was no one around anywhere. So I was under the impression that these two were wild.”
Wolves depredation on dogs in Minnesota has become more common in recent years as wolf populations increase and animals come into more frequent contact with hunters and human habitations. In Wisconsin, wolf depredation on bear hunting dogs is now a serious enough problem that the DNR has published a guide and maps of ‘caution areas’ to help hunters reduce conflicts.
More wolves means more wolf / dog confrontations. Still, Minnesotans don’t expect to have their dogs killed by wolves during a short pee break in the front yard. Especially when the wolves in question are “tame” animals out on a photo shoot…
The wolves belong to the Minnesota Wildlife Connection. Founder Lee Greenly says the business provided the animals for a photo shoot near the Ziegler’s property when the wolves wandered a little too far.
“I deeply regret that this incident happened and we’ll take precautions,” said Greenly. “99% of the time it’s never a problem. It’s just that 1% that happens, and this happened to be a problem.”
Yeah Lee. I’m guessing this is much like that 1% of stuff that happens when an untrained, unsupervised dog is allowed to run loose. The times when he kills chickens, craps in the neighbor’s yard, is hit by a car or gets shot for running deer. It’s also the 1% of stuff that responsible animal owners do their best to avoid. But hey, it’s OK ’cause, you know – these weren’t dogs. They were wolves.
Greenly says he has several licenses to breed and raise the wolves, which have been trained by Greenly and his family. He says the regulations for letting wildlife run free in rural areas are minimal.
Brilliant Lee! The fact that the state doesn’t specifically require that wolves be kept on leash obviously gives you the right to let tame wolves who, unlike their wild brethren, have lost their fear of people – run at large in the neighborhood. Leash laws are obviously only meant for domestic dogs and the wimps that own them. Real men own wolves. And hunt bear.
Lee enjoys the manly sport of bear hunting. So does his pal, country western singer Troy Lee Gentry. Back in 2006 Minneapolis TV station WCCO reported that:
Investigators said Troy Lee Gentry, half of the Montgomery Gentry duo, killed a tame black bear in an enclosed pen in Sandstone, Minn. in October 2004 and videotaped it.
Investigators said Gentry then edited the video to make it appear as though the animal was shot in the wild.
Shooting bears in a barrel! I’ll bet that’s more fun than hunting wiener dogs with wolves! Unfortunately, while we won’t penalize you for letting your wolf run at large, shooting tame bears is a misdemeanor here in Minnesota. In 2007 CBSNews reported:
Gentry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in November. Under a plea deal, he agreed to forfeit the bear and the bow he used during the hunt near Sandstone. The 600-pound bear has been part of a taxidermy display at Gentry’s home in Tennessee. He was sentenced Friday.
The bear was killed in October 2004 at the 80-acre Minnesota Wildlife Connection. Owner Lee Marvin Greenly sold the bear for $4,650 and orchestrated the hunt, which Gentry videotaped and edited to make it appear the bear had been killed in a fair chase hunt, according to authorities.
In his plea bargain agreement, Gentry admitted he shot a bear named Cubby from a hunting stand that stood in a 3-acre pen surrounded by an electric fence. And the wildlife-loving Mr. Greenly set the whole thing up for him (for a fee, of course.) And unfortunately for Mr. Greenly, the penalties for setting up fake bear hunts are somewhat more serious than those for hunting wieners out of season. According to the Chicago Tribune:
Lee Marvin Greenly, 46, Gentry’s local hunting guide, pleaded guilty at the same hearing to two felony charges of helping other hunters shoot bears at illegal baiting stations he maintained inside a national wildlife refuge near Sandstone in east-central Minnesota.
Our hearts go out to the Zieglers. This was a terrible way to lose a beloved friend. Our sympathies are also extended to Cubby the bear, killed back in 2006. We’d like to suggest that the USDA, Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture and Minnesota DNR consider reviewing the Wildlife Connections‘ permits. It appears that there may be something rotten in the City of Sandstone…
Parvovirus and the year 1978 will forever be bound together in my mind. That was the year I lost a kitten and my wonderful 5-year old pet Chinchilla to the disease. As soon as the kitten got sick I contacted my vet. He assured me that Chin wouldn’t catch the disease from Mandy… But a couple of days later my sweet boy sickened and then quickly died.
I never went back to that vet again. But – was it his fault my pet died or was Chin the victim of a newly mutated disease that had not affected chinchillas – or canids – before?
From today’s StarTribune:
About half of the wolf pups born in Minnesota each year are killed off by a highly contagious disease called canine parvovirus, according to new research published by a team of Minnesota researchers in a national journal.
The disease has stunted the growth of the state’s gray wolf population at a time when wolves are increasing rapidly in number and expanding their range in Wisconsin, Michigan and western states.
“That’s not happening in Minnesota, because there aren’t quite enough of these wolves to do more than just maintain the population,” said David Mech, senior research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author of the study.
According to most sources, parvovirus first began to affect canine populations in 1978. Since it first appeared, canine parvovirus has spread to every continent in the world (except Antarctica – where dog teams are no longer used to protect seal populations from the disease). The virulent spread of the disease is partly related to its incredible hardiness. The bacterium is resistant to extreme hot and cold temperatures and it’s not harmed by detergents, alcohols or common disinfectants. Add to this the fact that it can be transmitted directly when an infected dog, its stool, or a flea that bit that infected dog comes in contact with a healthy dog and that virus particles also spread easily on shoes, hoofs, paws, clothing and other inanimate objects that come in contact with infected animals or their feces — and you have a pretty good recipe to create an epidemic.
Add to that the difficulty impossibility of keeping wild canid populations separated from domestic ones and of keeping them immunized against the disease – and frankly it’s a wonder they haven’t been wiped out already. And… not everyone agrees with Mech that parvo is the primary factor controlling Minnesota wolf populations. From the same StarTrib article:
It’s true that Minnesota’s wolf population grew steadily until the late 1990s and has stabilized over most of the past decade, said Stark, but disease may not play the largest role in keeping the population in check. Wolf pups also die of starvation and attacks by black bears and raptors, he said. An increase in roads and human interference also probably limit wolves from expanding into agricultural areas to the west and south, Stark said.
Before the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the natural dynamics in predator and prey relationships keep both types of species in balance. But that balance was dynamic – not static. One did not go to a specific area of – say the paleolithic midwestern prairie and find the same proportion of wolves to mule deer year in and year out. Some years wolf populations thrived and others deer populations thrived. And in some years – neither fared well.
That’s the thing with natural systems – they’re dynamic, not static. And it’s those changes in balance that create the interesting stuff – the mutations, the extinctions, the catastrophies and the discontinuities. For some reason modern humans seem to be obsessed not with that interesting dynamic stuff that is the true basis for all the good and wonderful new things that arise in the universe – but with a bastardized form of static sameness that we think will insulate us from all risk.
So when things change, we freak out. Whether we need to or not.
And one of the things that’s changing in a big way right now are the dynamics controlling wolf populations in Minnesota. To get a handle on this first you need to understand that a wide range of factors interact to control wild animal populations and, like it or not, you also have to accept that today those factors are all affected by humans. For wolves, being hunted, exposed to the effects of habitat fragmentation, having a greater risk of disease, dealing with changes in prey animal populations and population densities, competing with other predators (including domestic dogs) for resources, dying as road kill and being trapped, poisoned or hunted as pests are all consequences of living in an ecosystem dominated by men.
So — is it really parvo that’s controlling wolf populations here in Minnesota - or is it an ecosystem that has been changed in nearly all aspects by man?