HOWL Colorado

Do wolves kill for sport?

[thumbnail icon url=”do-wolves-kill-for-sport” filename=”facts” year=”2009″ month=”11″ day=”08″] The simple answer is no. But they will take advantage of opportunity to kill more than they can eat in hopes of eating it later.

When compared to many hunters, the wolf is relatively unsuccessful. This leads to the wolf being quite an opportunistic hunter.

Even though the targets of wolves are typically sick, young or old – making them weaker – they are also relatively dangerous prey. The large ungulates are capable of kicking, stomping and otherwise physically defending themselves. This, of course, is one reason that wolves need to hunt in packs.

To kill for sport, the prey must be weak enough that they offer little to no defense against the predator’s attack. This is not an element of a wolf’s environment.

Wolves will kill in excess of what is needed, however. For example, wolves which find a disease-ridden, weaker group of prey animals may kill all of them in the hopes of returning later.  Scavangers obviously take full advantage of anything left behind for later, so there is a symbiotic benefit to some when a predator kills more than they can eat in a single sitting.

Wolves with insufficient access to their natural prey will kill livestock, albeit much less than some would have you believe – wolves account for very low numbers of livestock deaths. Since sheep and cattle are ill-equipped to defend themselves, wolves may slaughter them if the need is there.  These events, while relatively rare, are usually highlighted – especially by ranchers and those opposed to wolves – as typical behavior for wolves. 

The facts say otherwise. Sport appears not the reason for wolves to kill other animals. The desire to secure survival appears to be the overwhelming drive for the behavior. This is something humans are aware of. Our refrigerators and freezers provide us with the instinctual security of having food for the foreseeable future. 

This is not true for all animals, of course. Domesticated predators have a natural instint for pursuit, and in some cases, to kill. Many livestock kills are actually the work of dogs – far more than killed by wolves. 

There is one animal which truly does kill just for sport. Humans kill millions of animals each year for the purposes of sport.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service release reports regarding the various activities of hunters each year. A Fund for Animals report, which compiled these numbers for 2002-03, claims 115 million animals were killed by hunters that year. It is not clear how much of that hunting was for sustinence and how much was purely for sport. Though deer only accounted for a little under 6% of the total.

As for wolves. We can’t say if they derive pleasure from killing. That would require some transference on our part – which is anything but scientific.

An answer which appeared on the Slate Magazine to this very question, suggests wolves may even bury leftovers (a behavior clearly recognizable in dogs). You can read that answer: Do Wolves Kill for Sport?

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