Study finds cougars love elk meat more than wolves.
Ask any hunter what they think is the biggest problem animal preying on elk, and they’ll probably answer wolves. Especially in a western state like Idaho.
But the Spokesman-Review reports that a new study by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game may contradict that. It might come as a surprise, but it has found that mountain lions are a bigger threat to elk populations than wolves.
Fish and Game biologists dove into 15 years of data on wolves and elk, and they found that cougars account for 45% of all elk calf deaths and 35% of adult cow elk deaths.
Of course, that doesn’t mean wolves aren’t a factor. The study found 32% of elk cow deaths were wolf-related while just 28% of calf deaths were the result of wolves.
One of the lead researchers, senior IDFG wildlife research biologist Jon Horne, acknowledged to the Spokesman-Review that the results will likely be met with some raised eyebrows, since popular opinions on wolves are so sharply divided.
“On one side of the ledger you have a portion of the public that thinks that harvest is just going to lead the wolves to extinction and that has not been the case,” Horne said. “And then … there is a side that thinks wolves are taking over and they will grow without limits.”
The study did confirm a few things most of us already knew. Wolves accounted for more elk kills in heavy winters when moving was difficult for the elk. The winters also play more heavily into elk calf survival. That and the availability of food have more of an effect on survival rates than large predators.
Horne additionally said that the results of this study would probably yield similar results for neighboring states like Montana and Washington and parts of Canada. Wyoming wasn’t included in that list, which is another state that has had plenty of wolf/elk controversies in the past.
So, what does this study mean for the controversies surrounding elk and wolves? It’s hard to say right now. But we’re guessing researchers will be diving deeper into this topic in the future.
For now, let’s just be happy the wolves aren’t hurting elk herds as much as we previously thought. Maybe we’ll see an uptick in cougar hunting as news of this study spreads?