Large carnivores’ tough life: Lion and Buffalo fight to death

I usually hear people saying that herbivores are prey and are vulnerable to be killed at any moment. They have fear, and while grazing/browsing are vigilant and ready to run if anything similar to a predator has been spotted or smelled in the surroundings. They are seen as the weakest against the powerful predators armed with sharped claws and muscled jaws that hold an army of threatening canines.

From my point of view, the truth is slightly different. Predators do not have an easy life neither. They have to compete with other powerful and armed carnivores of their same and other species for food, space, access to reproduction, survival, etc. They also have to cope with diseases, human persecution (their biggest challenge in life!) and always have to be in good shape. They must be successful hunters which required skills and techniques that need to be constantly improved throughout their life.

Quite a difficult task too… who is afraid now?

Next pictures were published in the Daily Mail two weeks ago. They were taken by Matt Armstrong-Ford, who works as a safari guide in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.

I thought interesting to share them as they well illustrate the predators’ tough life.


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Desesperate six-year-old male lion suffering from mange was waiting nearby a waterhole for a meal when the lone female buffalo appeared in the scene.






The feline is tossed around in the air as he attempts to mount his adversary.




The amateur photographer said that the fight lasted up to an hour. The buffalo managed to shake the lion itself off several times but instead of trying to escape just stood there. Both animals stared at each other both too exhausted to move. After a few minutes of rest the lion then went for the buffalo and another ten-minute battle ensued.



As it looked like fortune was favouring the exhausted but ravenous lion a member of the buffalo’s herd came to its aid and delivered a deadly blow.


After this the lion managed to drag himself under a bush to lick his wounds. Both animals were covered in blood by the end. Two days later the lion succumbed to his injuries, while the buffalo’s carcass was found two weeks later having failed to fight off infection


Video monitoring of leopard prey in Namibia

Recordings of video-trap set at the leopard prey remains.
Part of the Leopard Research Project (­)

Leopard Research Project – Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

Camera: Miha Krofel & Vera Menges


Wolves are not the Cause of Elk Population Decline in Wyoming

Any hunter who’s spent time in wolf country can attest to the predators’ influence. We see wolf tracks, find old kills, and often times we spot fewer game animals. But exactly how wolves affect big-game populations is still greatly unknown. Yeah, wolves eat elk. But, do they kill mostly adults or calves? Do they eat enough elk to wipe out a whole herd? Do they pressure elk into hiding in the timber or force them off their feeding patterns? Are wolves even one of the main factors in elk population dynamics?

New research from the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming is starting to shed light on some of these questions. After three years of studying the Clark’s Fork elk herd (about 5,000 animals) in northwest Wyoming, lead researcher Arthur Middleton found that wolves might not be as detrimental to elk populations as many outdoorsmen think.

His research shows that the Clark’s Fork herd’s fate is based on a complex set of variables including habitat, weather, hunting, bears, and wolves.

“There’s a pretty popular notion that elk are always responding to wolves. And that’s a fairly logical perception because wolves are always hunting elk … But wolves hunt an elk population. That [hunting pressure] doesn’t always affect individual animals.”

Photo: Elk traveling across their winter range in Yellowstone National Park, USGS.

The Study
Middleton and a coalition of biologists GPS collared wolves and elk west of Cody, Wyoming in and around Yellowstone National park. In a study area of about 1 million acres, they monitored interactions between predator and prey. Over three years they observed the animals in January, February, and March – when wolves typically put the most stress on elk. The study was funded by a variety of organizations and agencies including Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone & Crockett Club, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Safari Club International.

The researchers set out to test the theory that wolves were responsible for decreasing elk populations in ways besides direct predation. In other words, they wanted to find out if pressure from wolves was running elk out of their regular feeding patterns and keeping cows from putting on enough body fat to rear calves in the spring.

The research started at a critical time for the Clark’s Fork herd. Calf-to-cow ratios in the migratory herd started dropping in the mid-90s, about the same time wolves were introduced. Those ratios have remained low since 2002 and overall elk numbers decreased. Middleton found about 15 calves to 100 elk in the migratory Clark’s Fork herd. In the resident herd, the ratio was about 35 calves per 100 elk.

Hunters and wildlife managers were alarmed by the drop in elk numbers. Doug McWhiter, a Wyoming Fish and Game biologist who manages the area, said elk numbers are stable now, but hunting opportunities had to be cut. Cow tags were reduced and hunting units in the area were switched from general over-the-counter licenses to limited quota in 2010. Hunter opportunity was reduced by 50 to 75 percent, says McWhiter who helped with Middleton’s research.

“We can maintain these elk numbers but we had to severely limit hunting opportunity to do that,” he says. “That in itself is difficult for people to understand.”

Photo: The Agate wolf pack in a stand-off with a bull in Yellowstone, NPS.

The Findings
Middleton and his crew found that a new wolf pack does not mean certain doom for an elk herd. In fact, elk have adapted to living with wolves.

“From my time in the field, I can say that most days in the life of a cow elk are pretty boring,” Middleton says. On average, elk encountered wolves once every 9 days. The highest wolf-encounter rate for any individual elk was once every four days. And, even though elk were encountering wolves, they weren’t overly stressed or run to starvation.

“We didn’t see any reduction in rate of feeding and we didn’t see them shift into timber. Those two behaviors were said to be [metabolically] costly, but we just didn’t see [the elk reacting that way,]” Middleton says.

Elk did move slightly more when wolves were within 1 kilometer, but not by much – they only traveled an extra 30 meters per hour when wolves were in the area.

The researchers also found that the number of wolf encounters had no impact on the amount of elk body fat. Body fat is a critical measurement for cows’ ability to rear calves.

So if the wolf-hunting-pressure theory was busted, what was happening to the Clark Fork’s herd?

Middleton says it comes down to habitat. The area has suffered a 20-year decline in habitat across the herd’s summer range. If an elk can’t put on enough body fat in the summer and fall, then it will struggle through the winter, regardless of predators, Middleton says.

“We looked at a suite of factors that could explain late-winter body fat and the only thing that did explain it was autumn body fat. In other words, whatever they get over the summer determines where they end up in winter,” he says.

Of course, wolf predation does affect overall elk numbers, but in a separate study Middleton found that wolves weren’t even the top calf predators. He found that bears typically take out more elk calves than wolves do. During a June monitoring period grizzlies killed an elk calf every two to four days and black bears killed a calf every four to eight days.

Photo: Wolf on an elk kill in Yellowstone, PLOS Biology.

Backcountry Observations
Collecting data that shows an elk herd can thrive in wolf country and then getting people to actually believe that data are two different challenges. Hunters and outfitters who have spent their lives in the backcountry – before and after the wolf reintroduction – have already made plenty of their own observations.

Tim Doud, owner of Bliss Creek Outfitters out of Cody, says the elk decline goes hand-in-hand with the wolf reintroduction. Clear and simple.

“The elk population numbers have certainty decreased and it is because of the wolves. That’s the only reason in my eyes,” he says. “Now I’m not anti-wolf. I don’t think they should be wiped out or anything like that. But we do need to hunt more of them. Most people don’t see what I see. They don’t see the horrific, suffering death of an elk whose hindquarters have been chewed away and can only lay there and die slowly. That’s a real shame. Most people … go to Yellowstone to see the pretty dogs.”

Ron Lineberger owns Butte Creek Outfitters with his wife Theresa and guides elk hunters in the Wyoming backcountry. Over the years he’s seen elk behavior change, and in many ways his observations match Middleton’s research.

“Elk behavior has totally changed, but the elk are not gone. Everyone loves to blame the wolf because it’s easy … [Wolves] did change the dynamic for the environment and they’ve changed the way a lot of animals have evolved. It has led to a bit of catastrophic natural adaptation…

“There has been a succession of fires, which destroyed natural elk habitat. Grizzly bear numbers have gone up and the elk have moved to survive. They have moved to more agricultural and human habitat areas. It’s not just the wolf that’s caused the change. People just look to put the blame on one thing. Yes, elk have moved to areas that haven’t seen elk for 200 years. But there are large portions of healthy elk populations that have moved to private land, which makes them unhuntable … Think of it this way: the elk are picking their poison. Either deal with hunters in the low country for 6 weeks, or stay in the high country and deal with wolves and bears year round.”

The takeaway? Adapting to environmental changes is key to the success of a species, and an elk hunter.

“The hunter has to adapt as well,” Lineberger says. “Hunting elk also relies on a lot of factors that we have no control over. The fact that they have become more alert thanks to the wolves, certainly makes it tougher, but hunters must adapt to that. We are no different than any other animal. We must adapt to survive.”


Lion takes on crocodile in war over hippo

THIS is the amazing moment a lion fought off the snapping jaws of a crocodile so it could feed on a dead hippo

The incredible battle was caught on camera by Richard Chew

The incredible battle was caught on camera by Richard Chew [CATERS/RICHARD CHEW]

The pictures were taken in the Maasi Mara nature reserve, in Kenya and show hungry lion braving a crocodile-infested river to get to an upside down hippo, which had died overnight of natural causes.

The incident was witnessed and captured on camera by Richard Chew, an IT manager from San Francisco, USA who was on holiday with his wife.

Semi- professional photographer Richard has travelled the world taking pictures but said it was a really unique moment.

He said: “It was such an amazing moment in wildlife and our Kenyan guide Abdul has never seen anything like it before.


The pictures were taken in the Maasi Mara nature reserve, in Kenya [CATERS/RICHARD CHEW]

The lion takes a mighty swing at the croc’s snapping jaws [CATERS/RICHARD CHEW]

The whole river was infested with crocodiles [CATERS/RICHARD CHEW ]

The lion defiantly snarls at the croc [CATERS/RICHARD CHEW]

“Two lions spotted the hippo at first but couldn’t reach it as they were on the wrong side of the river.

“The lions left in search of other prey and we went to explore a different area.” But when Richard returned to the same spot at the end of the day, the two lions had managed to get to the other side and were battling with 15 crocodiles for the free meal.

“The lions were really showing no fear. The river was full of crocodiles who were wanting a piece of the hippo but the lions were putting up a good fight.

“It was amazing to watch the wildlife food chain in action.”


John Terborgh: The Trophic Cascade Regulates Biodiversity

“The Trophic Cascade Regulates Biodiversity”

John Terborgh, Research Professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University; Director of the Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation

In this presentation, Dr. Terborgh draws on his decades of ecological research in the Neotropics to explain how biological interactions intricately regulate biodiversity. Hypotheses on the maintenance of tropical forest diversity abound, but it is becoming increasingly recognized that interspecific interactions are vital to sustaining the rich diversity the tropics are famous for. Dr. Terborgh offers ecological insights on the regulation of biodiversity and describe how interactions between primary producers, herbivores, and their predators contribute to the richness of tropical forests.

PGE’s interdisciplinary Spring conference, “Conserving More Than Carbon: Valuing Biodiversity in a Changing World”, addressed the current state of knowledge of tropical forest diversity and outlooks for its protection.

Learn more about the conference and the participants at:

Predators and their prey – why we need them both

by Joe Scott, international conservation director

Originally published in the spring/summer 2011 edition of Conservation Northwest Quarterly

Like CSI detectives investigating a crime scene, lynx and hare researchers in north central Washington recently responded to a “mortality” signal from a snowshoe hare that they had fitted with a satellite tracking collar to monitor hare movements. When they arrived at the scene the biologists were able to reconstruct the events around the hare’s demise.

Predators & prey: Why don’t predators eat all their prey?

A great horned owl had killed the hare, but predator became prey as a lynx killed the owl and pirated the hare for itself.

Everything eats snowshoe hares. In boreal forests, hares are the cheeseburgers for the fries, the fish for the chips, the meatballs for the spaghetti, and the corned beef for the cabbage.

Lynx are the most famous hare junkies, but the fleet-footed rabbits are also favored by wolves, coyotes, foxes, martens, eagles, goshawks, owls, and other raptors. In the ultimate insult, even red and ground squirrels eat them. People eat them.

Speed, stealth, aerial ambush and traps are all used on hares. Cute has no currency in the wilds, except as lunch. Scott Fisher, biologist with the Washington Department of Natural Resources, describes it this way: “When you’re a hare, everybody else on the block is a bully.”

But despite being every animal’s comfort food, snowshoe hares not only persist but do so in often ridiculous numbers.  How does an animal in such demand avoid being eaten out of existence?

It’s tempting to think that hares’ prodigious breeding ability is the evolutionary response to hyper predation.

But we have to dig a little deeper. All animals will have as many babies as they can successfully rear, whether their eggs are small and many or large and few, because that’s the best way of ensuring your genes survive in competition with those of your neighbors. And whether a species has many, many small eggs like a salmon, or a couple large eggs like a grizzly bear, it’s all about getting more of your genes out there, which is in turn rooted in the concept of ecological niches.

Predators & prey: What is a niche? Jobs in the woods


Paul Colinvaux describes a species’ niche as its place in the “grand scheme of things,” its “profession,” that is, “everything it does to get its food and raise its babies.” A plant or animal’s habitat is its address.

Spaces in each ecological niche, like welding jobs in a shipyard, are limited. Consequently the number of species that can fill a particular niche is more or less set by limitations on habitat imposed by climate, food, den sites, cover, etc—all the things that a species needs to survive and reproduce.

The niches, or jobs, of each species are crafted over millennia by natural selection. In other words, as Colinvaux concludes, “the common stay common and the rare stay rare,” unless something drastic happens to change the environment, like, for instance, clear cutting an old-growth forest or deregulating the financial industry. In each case you have a proliferation of weedy species, a reduction in diversity, and fewer real jobs.

Snowshoe hares have evolved to exploit a niche that has few competitors, since the boreal forests home to hares and lynx are very tough neighborhoods, especially in winter. In other words there are lots of hare “jobs” out there as long as the boreal remains the boreal and something doesn’t happen to radically alter it—like climate change.

So hares have lots of babies, very often, to supply the demand for hare jobs, not because so many animals like to eat them. High hare predation rates are a consequence of hare fecundity not a cause. Hare deaths are the grim cost of a reproductive strategy that floods the market with baby rabbits. And, lots of hares provide hare eating niches, or jobs, for many different predators.

So ultimately the numbers of any wildlife species are not determined by breeding strategies. They are set by opportunities for a particular plant or animal to live according to its needs. The number of welding jobs in the shipyard, not graduates of welding schools, determines the jobs for welders.

Predators & prey: Natural selection: Nature’s golden rule

Cooperation and conflict drive plant and animal adaptation. Species and their habitats thrive as interactive, dynamic systems that are constantly reshaping each other.

Natural selection is the ultimate arbiter—the universal law by which Mother Nature governs the biosphere. Quite simply, organisms are driven to survive, so prey animals respond over time with physical and behavioral adaptations to all the natural forces and conditions that conspire to kill them. Predators respond in kind with adaptations that allow them to exploit particular prey species. Otherwise neither would survive.

Predators have helped make snowshoe hares, well, snowshoe hares. Natural selection has equipped them with outsized hind legs and feet to run at lightening speed over snow. Their huge ears magnify the slightest sounds. Most ingeniously from a genetic standpoint, hares have developed a natural camouflage and change color with the seasons—white for winter, brown for summer. With so many things trying to eat them, they need lots of defensive weapons.

The hares that live longest and have the most babies pass more of those successful genes to the next generation, refining the traits over time, like camouflaged fur, that allow hares to escape lynx and owls long enough to reproduce, thus ensuring the survival of the species and its competitive “fitness” to adapt to dynamic landscapes and dozens of hungry predators.

Lynx are the ultimate hare specialists and as such their fortunes rise and fall with those of their big-footed prey. And they’ve kept pace in the evolutionary race for survival: their huge furry feet and long hind legs allow them to run and cut on top of snow like an NFL running back on juice. Many animals hunt hares but none with the efficiency of lynx. Yet they still can’t kill all the hares.

Predators & prey: Wild fluctuations

bighorn-does-david-moskowitz.jpgIn the north of their range, hare numbers have historically “crashed” spectacularly before rising again dramatically. In Alaska and western Canada, hare numbers rise and crash in roughly 10-year cycles, sometimes going from 10,000 to fewer than three animals per square mile in a single year. Female hares can produce two to five litters per year with three to four young per litter.

The phenomenon has been a source of scientific scrutiny for decades and was first described by fur trappers in the mid-nineteenth century. On large scales, scientists think that cyclical sun spot activity affects weather patterns and fire frequency in boreal forests, which in turn affect hare survival and food availability.

On smaller scales, over-browsing by the hyper-reproductive hares at their population zenith leads to food shortages that cause starvation and reduced reproduction, which in turn start the population declines. Just as the health of individual hares diminishes and they become more vulnerable to disease, predation from a larger number of hungry hare eaters kicks in and bingo, hares are scarcer than hens’ teeth—for a little while.

In essence, such wild fluctuations “reset” complex multiple predator prey systems until the next crash, rather like the way our economic and regulatory systems work—or not. Since they’re so tightly linked to snowshoe hares for food, lynx populations in the north rise and fall with them.

Northern lemmings undergo similar population booms and busts. Snowy owls are so tuned in to lemmings that they actually lay fewer eggs when lemming populations are down.

But such boom and bust predator prey economies are the exceptions, not the norms.

Predators & prey: From Arctic to Africa

Bees swarm, birds flock, fish school, and ungulates such as elk form herds because they’re less likely to become a predator’s next lunch special if they do so. Why some predators form groups, on the other hand, like lions in prides or wolves in packs, could have less to do with food sharing and more with defense of territories and rearing of young.

Research on the most well-known predator/prey dance partners on earth has shown that Africa’s Serengeti lions and wildebeest coexist in relative stability without the dramatic fluctuations in numbers that typify some arctic predators and prey like lynx and hares and lemmings and snowy owls.

A research team lead by John Fryxell of University of Guelph in Canada and Craig Packer from the University of Minnesota wanted to know why. Their modeling of four decades of data showed that wildebeest drastically reduced lion predation when they kept to groups and large herds.

Interestingly, the greater the tendency to form groups, the higher the stability of numbers of both species over time. According to Fryxell and colleagues: “When both the lions and wildebeest formed groups, predation was reduced even more. Compared with no-group ecosystems (all animals strewn across the Serengeti), grouping caused a 90-percent reduction in kill rates for lions.”

The complex social “cliques” seemed to work as ecosystem stabilizers, not dissimilar to human communities, with “both lion and wildebeest populations remaining relatively level over time.”

Social cliques among wild animals in the Serengeti are actually the glue that holds the ecosystem together and keeps population numbers stable. Wildebeest thrive in great numbers alongside zebra, Thompson’s gazelles, and several other ungulate species, all prey for lions, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, hunting dogs, and cheetahs.

Predators & prey: Wolves and white-tails

There are 3,000 wolves in Minnesota. They eat on average about 50,000 of the estimated 450,000 white-tailed deer a year. This represents about 11.5 % of the deer population, with minimal supplements of snowshoe hares, beavers, and moose.

In a recent comprehensive 15-year study of white-tailed deer and wolves, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) monitored the movements, survival, and mortality causes of 450 radio-collared does in four study areas. Simultaneously, department biologists monitored 55 radio-collared wolves from eight packs whose territories overlapped the deer study areas.

The research showed that doe mortality from wolves ranged from 4% to 22% per year but most typically was between 5% to 10% per year with the highest rate observed in the very severe winter of 1995-96.

Despite the fact that deer outnumber wolves in Minnesota by 150 to 1, wolves are not particularly effective hunters of white-tails.

According to the MDNR, “Wolves end up surviving primarily on the most vulnerable individuals in the deer population, such as very young, old, sick, injured, or nutritionally compromised deer, because those are the ones they can catch. The result being, that under certain conditions…many of the deer that wolves kill likely would have died from other causes, such as starvation or disease.”

Biologists refer to such predation impacts as “compensatory” as opposed to the “additive” effects of human hunters, who kill most prey in the prime of their reproductive lives.

Predators & prey: Where have all the mule deer gone?

doe-mule-deer-looking-out-david-moskowitz.jpgResearchers from Washington State University wanted to understand the reasons for long-term mule deer declines in the intermountain West. Hunters had long been blaming cougars. They were right…sort of. Cougars do kill mule deer. So do wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, and grizzly bears.

But as with all natural systems, nothing’s that simple.

It turns out that the open, mixed forest habitat preferred by mule deer has been so dramatically altered in the West through irrigated agriculture that it’s provided wonderful white-tailed deer habitat. White-tails, historically rare in Washington, now outnumber mule deer in eastern Washington.

And as white-tailed deer numbers grow, mule deer decline. It appears as though landscape level habitat changes have created the white-tailed equivalent of tenements for cockroaches. It also appears that cougars have responded in kind.

But while there may be a slight uptick in cougar numbers as a result of increased ungulate numbers, cougar numbers have not exploded as some people seem to think.

“It’s particularly striking how little difference there is in resident cougar densities across cougar range in western North America,” says Gary Koehler, carnivore biologist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. According to Dr. Koehler and his colleagues, “North American cougars exist in densities of about 1 to 2 adult animals per 100 sq. km everywhere they live—almost without fail. Female cougars are limited by prey availability, but males are limited by the availability of females in their territories, which they defend vigorously.”

However, the WSU researchers have found that cougar predation is having a greater impact on mule deer than on white-tails and occurs in the summer when white-tails move into higher elevation mule deer habitat. Mule deer are the “secondary” prey, but as they’re already in decline, predation is having a greater effect on them.

A similar dynamic has happened with mountain caribou in British Columbia’s inland rainforest. As the caribou’s historically extensive old-growth forest habitat has been increasingly fragmented, it’s opened more niches for deer, elk, and moose. Cougars and wolves follow and opportunistically prey on caribou which cannot withstand the “new normal.” For centuries the mountain caribou old forest and high elevation niche was at the heart of their predator avoidance strategy. Predators simply weren’t able to get to them enough to make a difference in caribou numbers.

Like steelworker jobs in Pittsburgh, jobs for mountain caribou have diminished. Now the wolves are literally at the door and it’s forced some tough choices for managers and conservationists alike until the habitat and historic prey species numbers are restored.

The Mule Deer Working Group of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has been studying mule deer dynamics, particularly mortalities and predation.

According to their findings, many factors confound the question about mule deer declines. Most deer mortality occurs in young animals soon after birth or in winter of their first year. Some biologists believe that the question of whether mortality is compensatory or additive is density dependent—it has to do with how many of the mule deer jobs are filled—also referred to as “carrying capacity” or the ability of the habitat to support the herd.

Carrying capacity can be measured by the overall condition of the animals and their range. When the herd numbers are consistent with what the habitat can support—at carrying capacity—deaths that happen are compensatory. They will occur one way or another naturally keeping animals at levels where the land to support them. As numbers of deer fall below range capacity, additional deer deaths become additive—and unsustainable, contributing to herd declines.

Climatic conditions such as long-term drought or severe winters can reduce the quality of the range and thus the overall physical condition of mule deer making them more vulnerable to predation. Significant habitat changes that result in different movement patterns could make deer even more susceptible to predation.

According to the Working Group, “…most of the environments where mule deer exist today have been altered by fire suppression, development, habitat fragmentation” etc. In these habitats (most of the West), biologists believe predation does not cause declines in deer populations. The effect predators have on prey populations in these environments is more complex and related to how humans affect predators, prey and habitat, and the types and densities of predators that exist.

“In years when mule deer populations are lean, some predators such as mountain lions and wolves may consume several wildlife species including elk and small mammals, causing the predators to maintain artificially high numbers. While this has the potential to slow the growth of mule deer populations, scientific studies show that reducing predators does not increase the number of fawns that survive to adulthood. And it’s the number of fawns that survive to adulthood that determines the growth rate of a mule deer population.”

Predators & prey: Why big fierce animals are rare

lynx-hunting-photo-c-patrick-reeves.jpgEverybody knows that, in nature, small things are common and large things are rare. To understand why, we need to dust off our high school physics textbooks and reacquaint ourselves with the second Law of Thermodynamics, which dictates that the harvesting of solar energy cannot be 100% efficient. This is the real reason that big fierce animals are rare. And rarity is one reason that predators can’t eat all their prey or compromise their numbers to the point that those prey animals are themselves threatened as species.

Ecosystems have structure, like the rows of stone in a pyramid. This structure is organized into what ecologists call “trophic levels,” which are quite simply the different plant and animal communities that inhabit a given area. In a typical simple system there are three trophic levels: plant communities, herbivores, and carnivores. Plants form the large pyramid base, herbivores in the middle level, carnivores at the small, pointy top.

Plants are less than 10% efficient converting light energy to produce plant tissue. Ninety percent is lost as heat to the atmosphere. In the transfer of energy to the second trophic level, the herbivores follows suit, so essentially energy is degraded by 90% at each level from plants through herbivores to carnivores. Of the 1000 calories of solar energy captured by a plant, 100 calories are available to a deer, and 1 calorie is available to a wolf, to grow, reproduce, and have enough strength and energy to hunt again. For this simple reason alone, predators generally can never number more than 10% of their prey.

The upshot is that predators have to work really hard to make a living. It’s definitely blue collar: complete with long hours, physical exertion, shorter life span, high risk of injury or death, and being frequently ostracized by neighbors. For example, wolves are considered efficient hunters for only about two years of their lives and rarely live beyond seven years in the wild.

Predators are limited by available calories, particularly in winter, territorial behavior, the rigors and risks of hunting, rapid decline in their athletic abilities. It’s no life of Reilly. The Second Law of Thermodynamics and natural selection have seen to it.

Predators & prey: Balance in all things

The bottom line is that ecosystems are complex. And, like it or not, predators are a necessary and beneficial part of natural systems. If we remove them from the picture, there are consequences.

Predators provide ecological stability by regulating the impacts of grazing and browsing animals, thus ensuring the overall productivity of the habitat. They cull weak, sick, and old prey, thus ensuring the maximum fitness of elk, deer, antelope, and hares. They foster biological diversity by “enforcing” ecological boundaries or preventing what ecologists refer to as “competitive exclusion,” the tendency of one prey animal to outcompete another. So-called “apex predators,” the wolves, lions, and tigers are the Godfathers, as they also control the numbers of “meso predators,” the coyotes, raccoons, possums, foxes—even domestic cats—which when left unchecked can do enormous damage to birds and native rodents.


How half truths, falsehoods and one farmer distorted reasons for historic wolf hunt

Use this searchable database for details on wolf attacks from 1996 to now.

It is a mythical animal. Inspiring. Feared. Intelligent. Reviled.

Once on the brink of extinction, the gray wolf’s comeback in Michigan is remarkable.

And now we will hunt them, a historic first in the state.

But an MLive Media Group investigation found that half-truths, falsehoods and a single farmer have distorted reasons for the hunt. Among them:

 When state lawmakers asked Congress to remove wolf protections, they cited an incident in which three wolves were shot outside an Upper Peninsula daycare center where children had just been let out. That never happened, MLive found.

 A leading state wolf specialist said there are cases where wolves have stared at humans through glass doors, ignoring pounding on windows meant to scare them. That never happened as well. The expert now admits he misspoke.

 The Natural Resources Commission received more than 10,000 emails after seeking public comment, but there is no tally of how many were pro or con. The NRC chairman deleted several thousand, many of them identical, from all over the world. Most of the rest went unopened, a department spokesman said. They said anti-hunt groups launched an email blast so extensive the agency was overwhelmed.

 And while attacks on livestock are cited as a reason to reduce wolf numbers, records show one farmer accounted for more cattle killed and injured than all other farmers in the years the DNR reviewed.

The farmer left dead cattle in the field for days, if not longer, a violation of the law and a smorgasbord that attracts wolves. He was given an electric fence by the state. The fence disappeared. He was also given three “guard mules.”

Two died. The other had to be removed in January because it was in such poor condition.

In wolf circles, those problems are known. Lesser known is that they persist. Wildlife officers again in May found dead cattle on his farm, MLive learned under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Visiting reporters in October also saw a months-old cow carcass in an open barn.

The farmer has never been cited. Nor is the state seeking restitution for the fence or mules.

“We’re kind of washing our hands of him,” said Brian Roell, a state Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist in Marquette.

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View full size   Click here to use this searchable database for details on wolf attacks in areas where you live or visit.

The farmer has received $38,000 from the state to pay for his cattle losses, MLive’s analysis shows, plus $3,000 for the mules and fence. That’s more than all other farmers combined.

Such incidents swirl like muddy water through the raging current of the wolf-hunt debate. Hunt supporters say they are isolated incidents and the hunt is necessary.

“How much exposure do we have to be subjected to before there is a problem? If they eat somebody, does that change the game?” asked Andres Tingstad, chief district judge of Gogebec and Ontonagon counties and a pro-hunt advocate.

Such questions will face voters across the state next November. One referendum, possibly two, will be on the ballot.

Already, more than $13,000 per wolf has been spent in an unsuccessful effort to stop this year’s hunt.

In coming days, MLive will explore the farmer with the most cattle losses, the town at the center of the debate, the daycare incident that is a Michigan myth, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring into the state to make the first hunt the last hunt.

‘The smartest dog you ever raised’

Officially, there are a minimum 658 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. That’s well up from three counted in 1989, after bounties and poaching eliminated wolves decades earlier.

Because of their comeback, here and in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the federal government removed protections in January 2012 – opening the door for Michigan’s Nov. 15 hunt.

Licenses sold out in six days, 1,200 in all. Forty-three wolves can be shot in three Upper Peninsula zones where officials say they have caused the most problems.

It is a touchy subject, including in Ironwood, where wolves have entered the city in search of deer and been shot by wildlife officers.

“It’s split pretty much, even here,” said Ralph Ansami, outdoor writer for the Ironwood Daily Globe.

Wolves share a mystique embedded deep in the American soul. They are independent. Packs are rooted in family units. They learn. They survive.

“Wolves are like the smartest dog you ever raised,” said Don Lonsway, a wolf specialist in Ironwood for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services “If they killed on one farm once, they will bypass others to kill there again.”

The first verified attack after wolves disappeared from Michigan was in 1996, when a free-ranging bear dog was killed in Luce County in 1996. Since then, there have been nearly 300 verified attacks on more than 500 livestock and dogs – half in just the past three years.

Calves are usually the target. On May 24, 2012, a cow and calf were both killed in Ontonagon County as the mother was giving birth. That is not the first time.

IMG952148.jpgThis wolf was killed on the Ontonagon County cattle farm managed by Duane Kolpack.Courtesy photo/Tom Dykstra

‘Sometimes they’re shopping, sometimes they’re buying’

Duane Kolpack, of Ontonagon County, says he has lost dozens of cattle to wolves on his 1,200 acres, especially since 2010 when predations picked up.

He’s tried non-lethal deterrents – guard mules, firecracker shells. When wolves were delisted last year, hunters with permits could kill wolves on his property. They’ve taken eight.

He or others can also shoot a wolf attacking cattle. But how do you prove that? he asks.

“It’s like when your wife goes shopping and she’s circling around. Will she buy anything? The wolves are the same. Sometimes they’re just shopping, and sometimes they’re buying.”

But attacks on livestock involve more than cattle:

Forty 10-week-old Ring-necked pheasants were killed in August 2008 in Luce County.

Thirty-eight geese and 12 ducks were killed a month later in Ontonagon County.

Thirty-five chickens were killed in February 2006 in Alger County.

Tougher than rocket science

Nancy Warren, who has worked with wolf experts on both sides of the issue as part of the state’s Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, says the hunt is unnecessary.

Nuisance wolves can already be killed by farmers and wildlife specialists, she said. A random hunt will not necessarily take out problem wolves, but could disrupt stable packs, leading to more problems as new wolves are introduced, she said.

“The facts speak for themselves and it just shows this is all politically motivated and has nothing to do with science,” said Warren, Great Lakes regional director for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

She points to what she calls misrepresentations by some in the DNR , Natural Resources Commmission, and the Legislature.

Adam Bump, the state’s fur bearer specialist, allows he misspoke when he gave an interview to Michigan Radio that was broadcast in May.

“You have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass door while they’re pounding on it exhibiting no fear,” Bump told the NPR affiliate.

That did not happen, he concedes. But the fear in certain areas is real, Bump said. He also said not making a choice is the same as making a choice, and that the DNR used rigid science to identify areas with problem wolves, leaving other packs alone.

He allows there are no guarantees the hunt will have an impact, and recalls the advice a professor once gave him at Michigan State University.

“Wildlife management is not rocket science,” Bump said. “It’s much harder than that.”

Michigan wolf hunt John Kos.JPGJohn Koski holds the skull of a dead cow found on his Matchwood Township farm Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. The 68-year-old, who has a second cattle farm in Bessemer, has the highest number of reported wolf attacks in Michigan. Koski supports the upcoming Upper Peninsula wolf hunt.Cory Morse |

A farm like no other

Here, in his cattle pasture, John Koski is surrounded by white pine, tamarack and golden aspens that shimmer in the wind. And cattle of course.

Not all of them are alive.

This farm is part boneyard. Cattle rib cages litter his land, pelvises too. Bleached white skulls glimmer in the sunlight on a warm autumn day. A decaying carcass lies in a shed, months after it died.

The bones are not supposed to be here because the law requires the animals to be buried.

They are not supposed to be here because cows should not be wolf bait.

They are not supposed to be here because we have too many wolves, hunting advocates say.

In Michigan’s great debate over whether wolves should be hunted, no farmer is more controversial than this 68-year-old man with blue eyes and a thick Finnish accent.

Source (and access to more pics):

Wildebeest fights off leopard

The Mara North Conservancy is well known for its big cats, but even regular observers were surprised by the series of events that unfolded last week near Kicheche Mara Camp.

A large and hungry male leopard stalked and successfully caught a large wildebeest calf. However things took an unusual turn when the calf’s mother took umbrage to her offspring being killed and eaten, so she turned on the leopard, hoisting it into the air before chasing him off.

Mother and calf then trotted off across the plains to live happily ever after, or until next time anyway. I believe the leopard’s pride was badly hurt, but nothing else seems to have suffered.