Wolf-prey relations

By:  and 
Edited by: L. David Mech and Luigi Boitani



As I (L.D. MECH) watched from a small ski plane while fifteen wolves surrounded a moose on snowy Isle Royale, I had no idea this encounter would typify observations I would make during 40 more years of studying wolf-prey relations.

My usual routine while observing wolves hunting was to have my pilot keep circling broadly over the scene so I could watch the wolves’ attacks without disturbing any of the animals. Only this time there was no attack. The moose held the wolves at bay for about 5 minutes (fig. 5.1), and then the pack left.

From this observation and many others of wolves hunting moose, deer, caribou, muskoxen, bison, elk, and even arctic hares, we have come to view the wolf as a highly discerning hunter, a predator that can quickly judge the cost/benefit ratio of attacking its prey. A successful attack, and the wolf can feed for days. One miscalculation, however, and the animal could be badly injured or killed. Thus wolves generally kill prey that, while not always on their last legs, tend to be less fit than the conspecifics and thus closer to death. The moose that the fifteen wolves surrounded had not been in this category, so when the wolves realized it, they gave up. This is most often the case when wolves hunt.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Wolf-prey relations
Chapter 5
ISBN 9780226516974
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Publisher location Chicago, IL
Contributing office(s) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description 27 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Wolves: Behavior, ecology, and conservation
First page 131
Last page 157