Humans may have domesticated dogs from a possibly extinct population of gray wolves in Europe some 18,000 years ago. But how did they do it?
A new study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that part of the answer lies in wolves’ innate social skills. To find out if wolves, like dogs, can learn by watching humans, the scientists tested 11 hand-raised North American gray wolf pups and 14 mixed breed dog puppies between the ages of 5 and 7 months old. All the animals were born in captivity and hand-raised in packs at the Wolf Science Center in Game Park Ernstbrunn, Austria.
Like the dog pups, the young wolves were most likely to find a hidden treat in a meadow if they first watched a human or specially trained dog hide it. Indeed, they were paying such close attention that they rarely bothered to search for the food if the person only pretended to hide it. Intriguingly, the wolves were less likely to search for food left by the dog demonstrators — but not because they weren’t watching…
When I was the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was fortunate enough to take part in the release of 11 Mexican gray wolves into Arizona’s Apache National Forest in 1998.
I will never forget the light in their eyes as we released the lobos from the confines of their crates, destined for a new life in the wilderness where they belong. This came after we had worked hard to restore wolves to the Yellowstone region just a few years before…
Found throughout eastern North America, from Canada south to Virginia, the coywolf is a coyote-wolf hybrid. For decades, people incorrectly labeled coywolves as eastern coyotes, and the large size of the coywolves has confused both scientists and laypeople alike since researchers first described the animals in 1969. Over the years, scientists have proposed a number of hypotheses to explain the canines’ large size…
A wolf’s howl is one of the most iconic sounds of nature, yet biologists aren’t sure why the animals do it. They’re not even sure if wolves howl voluntarily or if it’s some sort of reflex, perhaps caused by stress. Now, scientists working with captive North American timber wolves in Austria report that they’ve solved part of the mystery.
Almost 50 years ago, wildlife biologists suggested that a wolf’s howls were a way of reestablishing contact with other pack members after the animals became separated, which often happens during hunts. Yet, observers of captive wolves have also noted that the pattern of howls differs depending on the size of the pack and whether the dominant, breeding wolf is present, suggesting that the canids’ calls are not necessarily automatic responses.
Friederike Range, a cognitive ethologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, was in a unique position to explore the conundrum. Since 2008, she and her colleagues have hand-raised nine wolves at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn, which she co-directs. “We started taking our wolves for walks when they were 6 weeks old, and as soon as we took one out, the others would start to howl,” she says. “So immediately we became interested in why they howl.”…
A new study suggests that the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is beginning to bring back a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century — berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation.
It’s one of the first reports to identify the interactions between these large, important predators, based on complex ecological processes. It was published today by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
The researchers found that the level of berries consumed by Yellowstone grizzlies is significantly higher now that shrubs are starting to recover following the re-introduction of wolves, which have reduced over-browsing by elk herds. The berry bushes also produce flowers of value to pollinators like butterflies, insects and hummingbirds; food for other small and large mammals; and special benefits to birds…
'Landscape of Fear' Not Impacting Yellowstone's Elk
by Virginia Morell
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not elk in the Greater Yellowstone area of Wyoming and Montana. That’s the contention of a new study that disputes the notion that Rocky Mountain gray wolves, which were reintroduced into the region in 1995, have turned the once peaceful area into a “landscape of fear.”
After the wolves’ return, scientists noticed that the aspen trees and willows began to recover, while elk numbers declined. Researchers attributed the trees’ new growth to the wolves, because the elk could no longer blithely feed; they had to be vigilant and on the move. That added stress, some suggested, could also cause female elk to have fewer successful pregnancies, which would account for the elk population’s dropping numbers.
Endangered Canids: Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis)
by Jaymi Haimbuch
This is the world’s most endangered canid with fewer than 500 individuals left on earth. Located way up in the highlands of Ethiopia, it is the only canid species to have made a home at such altitudes.
The Red Wolf is often overshadowed by its more popular cousin, the Gray Wolf. These residents of the southeast were nearly driven to extinction by the middle of the 1900s by two main threats: first, humans killed them to prevent attacks on livestock; second, coyotes began spreading from the west into the east where they hybridized with the wolves. There were only 14 pure red wolves left in 1973.
Today, after decades of conservation efforts, there are around 120 red wolves living wild and another 200 in captivity but the same threats still exist today. An especially significant threat is the occurrence of coyote hunts — red wolves can easily be mistaken for coyotes from a distance and are still illegally killed either on purpose or by being misidentified as a coyote. Advocates for the wolvesseek to end coyote hunting competitions and night hunts in order to protect red wolves from this threat.
Endangered Canids: Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
by Jaymi Haimbuch
The Mexican Gray Wolf is the smallest gray wolf subspecies present in North America, and it is also the most genetically distinct. Nearly wiped out in the 1900s as ranching took over the southwest, the species was listed as endangered and given protections in 1976, though they had been eliminated from the US entirely and populations in Mexico were severely reduced.
Thanks to the success of captive breeding programs, the first of the captive-bred wolves were released back into the wild in the US in 1998 as part of a recovery program. That program also focuses on helping to reduce wolf-livestock conflicts and promote coexistence with this unique and rare canid species.
While many people may view zoos first and foremost as attractions, these institutions have a long history of supporting and instigating conservation work, including saving species from extinction that have vanished from their wild habitat. But such efforts require not just dedication and patience, but herculean organizational efforts. Enter, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which works with zoos and aquariums to set up conservation programs and track endangered species in captivity.
“Most of the major international conservation organizations have moved away from species conservation in recent years, now focusing on issues such as poverty alleviation, global change, ecosystem services, etc. It is the role of zoos and aquariums to keep alive the flame of species conservation!” Markus Gusset, Conservation Officer with WAZA, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Gusset says that zoos and aquariums should be conservation centers first and businesses second. He points to a long history of zoos in saving species that have gone extinct in the wild, including five mammals and one bird that would not be around today without the protective efforts of modern zoos…
(images: T - Red Wolf, Seth Bynum /Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium; 2L - Przwalski’s Horse, Petra Kaczensky/International Takhi Group; 2R - California Condor, Mike Wallace/San Diego Zoo Global; 3 - Black-footed Ferret, USFWS; BL - Arabian Oryx, Tim Wacher; BR - European Bison, Mieczysław Hlawiczka)