Why killing wolves doesn't work

Gray wolf
© Sierra Club

When humans decimated wolf populations, the idea was that farmers would no longer lose sheep and other livestock to the dog-like predators. But that horribly backfired, a new study has recently found.

Looking at 25 years of data, a group of researchers from Washington State University found that more livestock died when wolves were getting culled. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it turns out that for each wolf killed, the chances of a sheep getting killed rises by 4 percent and the chances of cattle getting killed increases by 5 to 6 percent.

“Livestock lobbyists are pretty much vehemently opposed to my research,” Rob Wielgus, one of the lead researchers, told the New York Times. “But in terms of hard science, it stood the test.”

Back in the 70's the gray wolf was listed as endangered. It took more than 30 years for the wolves to recover, and lethal population control continues to be the primary method for protecting livestock. Killing wolves breaks up wolf packs, which disrupts the general trend of more mature breeding pairs stopping younger wolves from breeding. With all the killings, researchers suspect there are more young breeding pairs with less disciplined wolves. Put simply, killing wolves inadvertently increases their populations.

The reality is, wolves don't account for most livestock deaths. In fact, they only account for 0.1 to 0.6 percent of deaths. Other predators, disease and birthing are all greater threats. It might be time to look for different solutions, like guard dogs, better livestock security and more people watching over herds.

Tags: Animals | Animal Welfare

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