How the death of one wolf can effect the entire pack. Living With Wolves in a summary by Danielle Flam, Research & Program Manager, September 24, 2015, answered the important questions; Can the death of a single wolf cause the rest of the pack to fall apart? Studies show it can, depending on which wolf is killed, the size of the pack, and the season.
“…Wolves are extremely social animals that live in families. Each wolf plays an important role in the pack’s survival, from the rearing of pups to teaching the younger wolves how to hunt. Yet, the long-term effects of losing specific individuals from such highly complex social groups are still poorly understood.” Living With Wolves summary
“…What they found is that in 77% of the cases where a pack dissolved, the dissolution was preceded by the death of a breeder. Moreover, the pack was more likely to dissolve if both breeders or if just the alpha female (mother) died, and if the pack was small, or if the death occurred just before or during breeding season.
But, interestingly, the loss of the alpha female and/or alpha pair didn’t appear to affect population growth that year or the following year. Scientists believe this is because wolves have compensatory breeding mechanisms. In intact packs, social carnivores like wolves suppress reproduction among others in the pack, essentially preventing them from breeding. But when the alpha pair is killed, there is no suppression, and as a result more and younger wolves tend to breed.” Living With Wolves Summary
This study also noted that when breeders die of natural causes, it was less likely to result in the pack dissolving than when the death of the breeder was human-caused…” Living With Wolves Summary
“…In Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina argues that animals, like wolves and elephants, have rich mental lives. And that the loss of an individual from a family of wolves, elephants or dolphins, for example, can have a surprising impact on the long term survival of the family:
When a poacher kills an elephant, he doesn’t just kill the elephant who dies. The family may lose the crucial memory of their elder matriarch, who knew where to travel during the very toughest years of drought to reach the food and water that would allow them to continue living. Thus one bullet may, years later, bring more deaths. Watching dolphins while thinking of elephants, what I realized is: when others recognize and depend on certain individuals, when a death makes the difference for individuals who survive, when relationships define us, we have traveled across a certain blurry boundary in the history of life on Earth—“it” has become “who.”
“Who” animals know who they are; they know who their family and friends are. They know their enemies. They make strategic alliances and cope with chronic rivalries. They aspire to higher rank and wait for their chance to challenge the existing order. Their status affects their offspring’s prospects. Their life follows the arc of a career. Personal relationships define them. Sound familiar? Of course. “They” includes us. But a vivid, familiar life is not the domain of humans alone. (Safina 2015).
Relationships define elephants, like they define wolves, like they define us. What happens to the survivors when individual family members are lost is a question that is perhaps hard to quantify, but the more closely we pay attention to these “who” animals and their relationships, the more clear the answer may become.” Living With Wolves Summary
Theses are excerpts and to read the full summary by Danielle Flam, Research & Program Manager, September 24, 2015, go to https://www.livingwithwolves.org/2015/09/24/how-the-death-of-one-wolf-can-affect-the-entire-pack/
Featured image by Living With Wolves