Wolf vs Bear Showdown

By on September 11, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO - Planet Jackson Hole came upon the “Wolves versus Bear” video that’s swiftly making the rounds on social media. It features a wolf pack chasing away a grizzly bear in the Mud Flats area of Grand Teton Nation Park. We were as astounded as anyone who has seen it. We decided to ask the experts exactly what was going on in the short interaction between the wolves and the bear.

Are the wolves just messing with the griz? Is the bear afraid of the wolves? Does this kind of showdown happen very often and who would win if they got into it?

Here’s what Steve Cain, chief biologist for Grand Teton NP; and Dan Stahler, Yellowstone wolf project biologist had to say after we showed them the video.

STAHLER: While there is no obvious carcass, per se, in the shot, there are a fair number of ravens in backdrop that would indicate there is probably something around. This type of behavior you are seeing is what we would typically find if a carcass is present – both wolves and bears would be drawn to it. Adult bears, and that looked like an adult bear, will often take over a carcass and wolves usually back off feeling it’s not worth getting swatted over.

Wolves and bears know each other’s behavior well enough that the wolves would feel comfortable darting in there and dancing back and forth without getting hit. What I’m interpreting here is there is probably carcass in the area and with some smaller wolves, pups-of-the-year around, well, then the adults are willing to escalate the situation and be more aggressive in driving the bear from the area.

CAIN: I think what’s happened is the bear just happens to be traveling right through where a wolf pack was hanging out with pups-of-the-year. From what I can see, that pack is the Huckleberry Pack. You can see in the video – I’m watching it again now – when the bear starts to turn toward the wolves, the adults get excited and decide to escort it out of there. You can see one wolf has something in its mouth and with the ravens around you can assume there could be a food item involved.

Toward the end of the video you’ll notice four or five wolves, all black, standing and watching and not participating. Those are all pups. The adults were on guard. Wolves will often attempt to make a concerted effort to move bears off a carcass, especially if the bear is not very big. Numbers help. This is a completely typical and expected reaction, though.

STAHLER: We have a lot of data we haven’t worked up yet, so I don’t have a scientific answer as to whether more wolves betters their chances. But yes, when there are more wolves in a pack, I think that bolsters their confidence. We have seen that a group this size is very advantageous.

You can see some wolf tails come up in the video. These are likely the dominant alpha adults. It’s kind of hard to tell size. It doesn’t look like a huge bear to me. Maybe a sub-adult male? The bear looks like he becomes easily distracted a few times wondering which wolf is going to come in and bite his ass. That nipping at a bear by a wolf is fairly common. He doesn’t look like he is interpreting the wolves as a real risk. You see him stop and hop and look at the wolves once or twice, and a couple of them run away. Those are the younger ones probably.

CAIN: Since they are competitors for the same food items, they are always testing each other. You see one wolf charged right in there and bit the bear on the butt pretty good and that’s not uncommon. Right before they go into willows you can tell the bear just wanted out of there.

STAHLER: Yeah, once the bear leaves and goes into willows the wolves’ postures change and they seem content that the bear is out of the way and the threat is removed. We have had wolves kill bears in Yellowstone. It is extremely rare and it’s usually cubs-of-the-year, but they don’t target bears as food.

The adult wolves will be fairly aggressive, though, in defense of the pups but I bet there is a carcass in the area somewhere that these animals have been interacting over recently.

CAIN: It’s a neat video. People don’t get to see this kind of thing very often.

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About Jake Nichols

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10 Comments

  1. tori

    September 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Its not a full sized adult

  2. Lisa Robertson

    September 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    It’s such a pleasure to watch wildlife being wild, free and untrapped, as it should be. GTNP remains one of the few “safe zones” for our Wyoming wolves, with 85% of the state considered the “predator zone”, or what we call, the “DEAD ZONE”. Wolves in our state can be shot and trapped every single day of the year, with 72 hour trap checks for legholds, and 13 day trap checks for snares and conibear traps, and worse. This is horrific, barbaric, inhumane and indiscriminate. It’s time for change, and a local Jackson group called Wyoming Untrapped is kicking in gear to find solutions. We want wildlife in our state to live free and untrapped throughout Wyoming. It’s time for change.

    Once again Jake and PlanetJH, thank you for researching the details of this spectacular wild action in GTNP.

    • Andreas Falderbaum

      September 13, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Agree completely Lisa. The sadistic attitude this country has towards wildlife is saddening. It’s like spitting God in the eye. We have lost our way, and are hell bent on the destruction of everything. You hear stories from across the nation about deer populations being out of control, badger cull’s, hog’s destroying ranches etc etc. But not once does someone sit back and say “You know what? The problem isn’t the animals, it’s the fact that we are shooting (as you pointed out) wolves on site everywhere. Of course a Wolves’ prey will strive if they aren’t there to control the populations naturally.” It’s ridiculous how our government wants to play God by constantly de-listing endangered species for the sake of some ignorant farmers who don’t know the golden rule… Plant or raise enough for nature, and enough for yourself. It’s not hard to do.

    • Gail

      September 13, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      Lisa, traps of all types should be banned in EVERY state. It’s sickening that it is still allowed.

    • Grady

      April 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      A tiger would lose to a wolf pack if it was 20 wolves.

  3. Devin Caliri

    September 14, 2013 at 3:29 am

    You cannot forget about the data supporting the hunt/trap to keep the heard not only “healthy” but to keep the numbers manageable. That’s why the state of Minnesota brought back the wolf hunt after many years of it being on the endangered list. Their numbers are way up and so were problems such as wild stock loss, property invasion, and a host of others.
    One must also remember or realize this is not the 1800’s and wolves, elk, deer, etc. don’t have the unending wilderness to frolic about in. There are towns everywhere, and people are effected by all these animals. Them numbers need to be controlled.
    Would you rather we move entire towns or cities? Of course, that would be absurd. Since they need to be controlled, would you rather the DNR of each state involved poison the herds and packs? Is that humane? How about paying “sharp-shooters” to thin them out? At least with hunting/trapping the state gets revenue (which most states rely heavily on) and the hunter gets to eat.

    The animals are not god to spit in the eye. And it is not against my God to hunt. Essau was a hunter. He wasn’t damned by God. Remember that story from Sunday school?

    I don’t wantonly destroy life. I don’t kill for the fun of it just to kill. I’ve shot more wildlife with a camera than I have ever shot with a firearm. I love life. As much as I enjoy beef, I enjoy the meat of the game I hunt. Nope, I will never be a vegetarian.

    I worked at the International Wolf Center for several years and I can tell you I loved those wolves. I was fascinated by them. I was taking several classes at the time from Natural Resources, to Wildlife Management and Biology, even branching with wolf biology/behavior type class. That doesn’t make me an expert, but I do know what I’m talking about and the data for the subject just talked about backs up my response.

  4. Hendrik Boesch

    September 15, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    For someone who worked at the International Wolf Center you seem to be pretty narrow minded or simply ignorant if it comes to the complex conflicts between wildlife and humans. Man will not manage nature, period.

    You mention that Minnesota reinstated the hunt due to rising numbers and rising problems, which is nothing but black and white thinking, not considering the nature of wolves. Wolves will only be ‘problem’ wolves if man allows them to. Since wolves had been destroyed for decades or centuries, man just took over the land in which nature functioned for longer as we can think. Habitats are destroyed for cattle fields or energy, if wolves then return (or get reintroduced) like in Montana, shooting them seems to be the easiest solution, as it worked in the past.

    If farmers do not protect their cattle from wolves, opportunistic (and horrible hunters considering their efficiency when hunting) predators like wolves will start going for the energy if it’s easier to get than hunting something else (which is not confined by fences and can run away). I know protection costs, but every industry producing goods has to take measures to protect itself.

    Randomly shooting any wolf out of an existing family is not working to prevent cattle predation but more likely causing them in the first place. Older, experienced wolves get killed, hunting techniques won’t get passed down to younger, inexperienced pups, so it’s more likely for a wolf to concentrate on easier accessible food, which in many areas is cattle. A family that specializes in a certain prey (which can vary from family to family even in one NP like the wolves proved in the past in Yellowstone), will have to change their hunting behavior.

    Other countries, like examples in Europe and Western Europe show, use herding dogs, wolf fences or simply move cattle closer to farms for small period to prevent wolf attacks in the first place. However the industry in the US always tells people ‘shooting is the only option’.
    It’s the less expensive option, but not the option that prevents issues now or in the future.

    Everybody knows that ‘date and numbers that back you up’ often lack proper funding. If a family of wolves finds an already dead cow and consumes it, there is no money spent on trying to find out if it was actually a kill or the natural use of energy. So it’s another ‘kill’ for the statistic that ‘proves’ nothing.

    A hunt for wolves, no matter if regulated by a quota or not, won’t solve any issues. Only tight monitoring over longer periods of time (in addition to understanding the whole family’s behavior) and removing (killing) individual wolves that show certain behavior patterns from a family will be able to reduce conflicts, but not even get rid of them all unless all wolves are shot dead.

    A lot of people say that this would be too expensive and not worth it. But those people should understand and accept that there are a lot of other people who actually strive for co-existence with minimum conflicts, so they oppose the ‘wolf hunt is managing a problem’ fairy tales told by hunters. Nature does not have a value.

    If you should question any of the above, I would recommend researching who funds the studies for the date you use and numbers you think tell any story of shooting wolves helps a single cattle rancher. In addition to that there are countless field reports by people observing wolf behavior for decades, that give a basic understanding of the complexity of a wolf family and the impact of member loss, e.g. Guenther Bloch’s behavior study from Canada.

    You obviously do not know what you are talking about and I would suggest you actually take some time and go see some ranchers who actually have problems. Because there are more and more who prove and state that basic prevention measures significantly dropped their conflict numbers, without shooting wolves. For someone who supposed to have worked at the International Wolf Center, you seem to not have listened to the information provided there, otherwise you wouldn’t have repeated so many false statements and promote random killing as a solution.

    • J. Reiland

      September 16, 2013 at 4:53 am

      I wish more people would consider your point of view. The prevailing attitudes toward wildlife,specifically wolves are based on the needs of special interest groups. In general those groups are not interested in ecological balance or diversity, but preserving their own economic interest.

    • Tammy Shelton

      September 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Does anyone know the name of this wolf pack? Or if it is named. It is so cool that they were seen like this in the Tetons!

  5. John

    September 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Lisa – protected areas for predatory wildlife is beneficial. To say that area should be the whole state rather obviously reveals your tree-hugger status, and your lack of concern for the livelyhood of stock producers.
    That attitude is one small step on the road to a fascist (yea government, boo freedom) condition, so I guess you and I will have to part ways.

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