When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, there was some concern among bear aficionados that there might be undue competition between the two big carnivores. So far, the reverse appears to be true.
“The bears are probably benefiting slightly,” said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s wolf project leader. In the fall of 2002, an important grizzly food, whitebark pine nuts, were a complete bust, and grizzlies turned to wolf kills.
“Grizzlies, we are finding, are dominant to wolves at kills and they just chase the wolves away and eat the kill. Last fall we had more grizzlies on wolf kills in Yellowstone country than any other fall since wolves were reintroduced,” said Smith.
In one case, Smith documented one big boar grizzly holding two dozen wolves at bay while he chewed on an elk carcass. The wolves didn’t want to mess with the big grizzly, even though he had taken over the kill they had worked to get.
“The other thing they do is when they come out of their dens in the spring, I’ve tracked bears straight from a den to a wolf kill right upon emergence,” said Smith. “Two key times when bears are looking for food, upon emergence and in the fall before they go in the dens, we’ve documented wolves providing food for them, so I think there’s a slight benefit to bears from wolves.”
There have been observations of bears tracking wolves as well, apparently waiting for the wolves to pull down prey. And there’s at least one report of a grizzly and several wolves working in tandem to take down a young bison, although the grizzly, which ended up with the spoils of the hunt, did not share.