Sometimes the Law of Unintended Consequences has teeth. In this case, people forgot that cats and canines tend to disagree. The bigger each species is, the more likely their arguments are to end in death.
That is what is happening in the American west as wolves spread into the mountains once more. The canines are making it clear that pumas are not welcome in their domain, driving the adults to starvation while killing the cubs. Add to this the penchant both species have for pursuing domestic livestock, pets, and unwary people, and you have the present situation from Wyoming to California.
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How Wolves Are Driving Down Mountain Lion Populations
A recent study from Wyoming shows that when the two predators overlap, wolves kill kittens in high numbers and push adults to starvation
By Rasha Aridi
JANUARY 21, 2021
The Lava Mountain Wolf Pack, the most populous of its kind in the American West, moved into carnivore biologist Mark Elbroch’s study site in Wyoming’s Teton Range in 2014. Various wolf packs took up residence in the nearly 900-square-mile area over the years, and this pack settled atop a massive, rocky cliffside. At the base of the cliffs lived a mountain lion named F47 and her three kittens.
Over the course of three months, the wolves killed off F47’s kittens—one each month. Three other kittens in the study site also fell prey to the pack. Elbroch, the director of Panthera’s Puma Program, didn’t see wolves attack the young cats with his own eyes, but he saw the aftermath: Bloodied bits of dismembered kittens strewn across the ground. “It was hard for us to watch,” he says.
In the mid-1900s, scientists started trying to understand how North America’s carnivores, like wolves and mountain lions, interact. Previous studies suggested that in places where mountain lions and wolves compete, wolves usually come out on top by stealing the lions’ kills or changing where the cats hunt. But wildlife biologists weren’t sure just how detrimental wolves could be to mountain lion populations. A study published in November in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B provided the first evidence that when the two species overlap, wolves have a greater effect on mountain lion populations than hunting by humans and the availability of prey. And the ways scientists say that wolves impact populations? By starving out adults and killing kittens.