Culling wolves doesn’t save the lives of the sheep and cattle they feed on, according to new research which found that the more wolves that are killed the greater the risk to local livestock of being eaten.
Washington State University researchers discovered that it is counterproductive to shoot and trap wolves because losses in their numbers change the animals’ social behaviour, and encourages them to eat more sheep and cattle.
Writing in the journal Plos One, the wildlife biologist Rob Wielgus and the data analyst Kaylie Peebles say killing one wolf increases the odds of depredations by 4 per cent for sheep and 5 to 6 per cent for cattle, the following year.
Dr Wielgus said the wolf killings disrupt the social cohesion of the pack. While an intact breeding pair of wolves will keep young offspring from mating, disruption can set more sexually mature wolves free to breed, leading to an increase in breeding pairs.
An increase in pups means they become bound to one location and can’t roam more widely to hunt deer and elk as freely – so they turn to livestock. “The only way you’re going to completely eliminate livestock depredations is to get rid of all the wolves... and that that’s not going to happen,” said Dr Wielgus.
In the UK, wolves were hunted to extinction some 500 years ago, although there are plans to reintroduce them to Scotland.Reuse content