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Meet the Gray Wolf: A Yellowstone Wildlife Success Story

a wolf that is standing in the grass

Believe it or not, it was once open season for gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. When the park was first formed in 1872, the gray wolf was considered an undesirable predator, and it was actually the government who all but eradicated them. Wolf-killing went on in the park right up until 1926, when conservationists became aware of the damage of eliminating an entire species. According to records reported by Adolph Murie, a noted biologist of the time, over 100 gray wolves were killed by Yellowstone park rangers between 1916 and 1924.

Disruption in Yellowstone Wildlife

Once the wolves were gone, the elk began to take over. Disrupting the balance of nature always has its consequences, and the extinction of the majestic gray wolf was no exception. Yellowstone flora began to suffer from overgrazing, so rangers began killing off the elk to compensate.

After years of this faulty thinking, conservationists finally realized that the real answer was simply to let nature take its course. The killing of elk stopped and the gray wolf was reintroduced, but this didn’t happen until 1995.

Wildlife Balance Restored

In the two decades since, Yellowstone wildlife has begun returning to manageable levels. 14 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995, and from that initial pack, an estimated 95 wolves resided inside park boundaries by 2013. As the wolves were restored, the elk population declined. This, in turn, caused regrowth to take place in the important flora of Yellowstone, for instance cottonwoods and aspens began to flourish without overgrazing from elk.

In 2008, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered list, thanks largely in part to the re-population that occurred in Yellowstone. Today, if you want an opportunity to view these magnificent creatures, you can book a Scenic Safaris wildlife tour that takes you right to where the wild things are.