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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Monday, November 11, 1996

Home range of the wolves
Reported by Chris Lucash

Other wolf researchers have learned that the amount of food (or "prey density") in an area has a great effect on how large an area the wolves travel in. This area is called their "home range." The size of the home range depends in part on how much ground the wolves need to cover in order to find enough prey to survive.

At certain times of the year, and throughout some entire years, there is not enough food (berries, acorns, etc.) available in the higher elevation forests for the animals that the wolves prey upon. The lack of food causes the prey animals to move to other areas. It may also limit their ability to reproduce and raise young. This in turn forces the wolves to go elsewhere to search for prey. If the wolves settle on private property or begin preying upon domestic animals, we have to capture them and return them to pens or move them to another recovery area.

We use radio-tracking to follow the 10 collared red wolves here in the Park. In general, the home range is 16 square kilometers (6 square miles) in Cades Cove. It is as much as 10 to 20 times larger for wolves in the higher elevation forests. Breeding pairs, especially the females, limit their range during the denning season, but expand it again as the pups grow and need more food. The current population is between 10 and 24 wolves. The Park is 500,000 acres (780 square miles), but we cannot predict how many wolves can be supported without more accurate information on prey densities throughout the park.

We caught 52 raccoons in Cades Cove but have only caught 9 raccoons at Tremont. The low number is not as bad as it seems at first because we are only using half the number of traps at Tremont as we did at Cades Cove. We also caught opossums, rabbits, skunks, and a gray fox. The rabbits and opossums are also prey for the red wolves but they rarely kill skunks or foxes. We hope to use the information from the raccoon studies in the future to select areas to release red wolves that will give them the best chances of surviving.

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