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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