Remarkable video shows an elk calf-eating grizzly and elk grazing side by side-

Daryl Hunter spotted grizzly bear #610 approaching elk at Willow Flats in Grand Teton National Park. The bear had been eating their elk calves all months. Guess what happened next?  Watch his video.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

30 Responses to Sudden elk-grizzly bear coexistence

  1. Ralph, thanks for sharing my video 😀

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    WOW Daryl!!! Right place, at the right time.

  3. avatar Jeff says:

    Saw 610 last weekend just south of Colter Bay. Barry Lopez wrote about predator/prey communication, it seems as though the elk could tell she wasn’t on the hunt…perhaps they told her they were all fit cows? Several years ago I watched a solo cow elk approached by two wolves in the Lamar, it started at a distance of over a 1/4 mile, as the wolves neared, the elk began walking towards the wolves, once they were within about 30 yards of one another the elk took off after the wolves, exactly the opposite of what I thought was going to happen she clearly had a calf in the grass and she knew what to do. Strong confident healthy elk and moose don’t run, thus they don’t trigger the chase and bite response of predators. Great video.

  4. avatar Jeff says:

    Here is a clip of a mule deer doe holding a wolf at bay on a butte in Jackson this winter.

    • avatar Mike says:

      Wow, incredible footage!

      I’m guessing some photog had video capability in his DLSR.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      Another neat video Jeff.

      What appeared to be a “stalk w/dinner in mind” scenario almost seemed to turn into a “okay fine, so dinner’s out, wanna play?” situation. Atleast that’s what I gathered from the wolf’s body language 🙂

  5. Thanks for that video. Watching it closely without the sound it is interesting that the bear and the lead elk exchange what I learned from bears in Alaska was the “permission” and “I don’t want to fight” body language as they approached each other. As the film goes on, the bear further reassures the elk by eating and sitting down, even lying down. Then the elk seem much more interested and concerned with the photographer as the film goes on. This probably happens often, although at night when we usually are not around to see it. The body language is subtle to humans and I think that not seeing it has caused many a problem between humans and bears. Notice that the elk even turned its whole body sideways to the bear at one point after the bear turned his whole body sideways to the elk. They definitely were speaking the same language.

  6. AS for the second film with the wolf. . interesting body language on part of the wolf. . I don’t know as much about wolves as I do bears but at one point the wolf even yawned purposely in front of the deer. Don’t wolves only attack from behind . . did this wolf just want to play? Someone who studies wolf body language would be able to tell us I am sure.

  7. The tail wagging and tail up have nothing to do with play. That is a prelude to an attack. I have watched single wolves with single elk exhibiting this same behavior before attacking. The wolf is trying to distract the deer and is looking for a chance to strike. The video of the guy next to the wolf in Yellowstone last year shows the same tail wagging behavior. The wolf would have attacked him if he had turned his back.

    Daryl, is this deer injured? It doesn’t move right. I have watched mule deer bucks attack each other during the rut and they move much faster than this deer is moving. A healthy buck would have stomped the snot out of this wolf.

    • Larry, Originally we though so but latter after successfully fending off the attack for two days we started to doubt it favoring bad judgment of the part of a young wolf instead.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      Not that I am an expert by any means in this type of observation, but I have some raw footage of a young wolf bowing and tail wagging in front of a bull elk, only to be chased away by the elk.

      Just me thinking, but an adult won’t waste that energy “playing” with food.

      • avatar louise kane says:

        http://jimmyjonesphotography.com/p810005104

        compare the posture of the wolf “playing” with the mule deer and that of the wolf stalking the bison. This is a series of images on Jimmy Jones site. Jimmy has studied and photographed wild wolves for years. There is an amazing sequence of images showing a single wolf making a kill of a bison. His photography is stunning. And he has huge heart, has donated a number of images for wolf advocacy work. Make sure to read the comments to the left of the series of images.

        • avatar WM says:

          Louise,

          Of course, you don’t know what happened before frame 1, and between frames 19 and 20. This is not a large bison, maybe even a sick one, or tired or injured previously (pure speculation on my part and only brought up for discussion of the full spectrum of variables at play).

          Full stories are important, and sometimes those with cameras do not see, or choose to record AND SHOW the whole story. Not saying this was the case, here, but critical thinking is always a good skill to employ when trying to figure out the real story with limited information at hand.

          • avatar louise kane says:

            Wm This thread relates to comments about the wolf and his/her behavior with the mule deer. Some posted that it looked like play. Tail up and wagging, and the play bow pose that dogs also do. I posted a series of images from an amazing photographer showing a wolf stalking a bison. I said “compare the posture of the wolf “playing” with the mule deer and that of the wolf stalking the bison”. I made no conclusions. I posted this to show the posture exhibited by the wolf stalking the bison. What does this have to do with critical thinking skills? Is it ever possible for you to not have a knee jerk reaction that results in a backhand insult. I understand all about photography and video and the art of editing. Did you take a moment to look at Jimmy’s work, the volume and body of the work, the quality and his insightful comments? What is your point here WM, you know more about video and photography?

            • avatar louise kane says:

              WM this from the photographer

              “This gallery shows an event rarely witnessed by anyone. This beta male of Yellowstone’s Canyon wolf pack is in the process of wearing down this bison cow that is sick or injured. This ordeal went on for two days and finally ended with this single wolf making the kill late in the evening. It is unknown what ailed the bison, but if this had not happened it is possible she could have died a very slow and painful death over the course of days or even weeks. The carcass of this bison fed not only the six members of the Canyon pack, but also bears, eagles, coyotes, ravens, and other animals. There is little waste in nature.
              “One interesting observation I had was … this wolf never showed his teeth, growled, or even snarled at this bison. He operated with purpose and precision without any hostility like you see in the movies.
              Wolves are perhaps the most misrepresented of all wild animals.”

              All animals in this gallery are free roaming wildlife.

            • avatar SAP says:

              Very interesting sequence — thanks for posting!

              I agree that something major happened between photos 19 & 20 – the background is very different in 20, so the animals have moved somewhere.

              Pretty sure the wolf didn’t pull out a straight razor in between 19 & 20, though.

              One possibility: as the photographer states, this kill took about two days. Based on what I’ve seen of wolf attacks, she probably had some major bite wounds on her hinds, maybe her nose as well. Shock, blood loss, and infection were probably starting to take their toll.

              Also, considering the size of wolf bites, there were probably major muscle groups starting to fail. Frames 14-19 were likely her last lunge and may have led to crippling muscle injuries. Down she went, and the wolf was able to move in to finish the kill.

              Regarding the wolf not showing his teeth – I can’t recall which behaviorist has talked about this (probably several), but predation and aggression are pretty much separate behavior patterns, as you likely already know. Compare what you may have seen of domestic cats fighting (snarling, ears back, eyes huge) versus the intense focus of a cat stalking a bird or mouse. My dogs are the same way — fighting another dog (which I don’t encourage or tolerate), or barking at a stranger, looks totally different from them herding livestock or hunting mice.

  8. avatar Jon Way says:

    Great video. There were 2 references to the play bow done by the wolf at around the 5:30 mark. Pups do that as an invitation to play and usually that invites a chase in a group play situation. The wolf most likely redirected that behavior to the deer to try and get it to run to be able to chase it. Had the deer run his technique would’ve worked.

  9. I watched a wolf harass a cow elk in the Hayden Valley for over an hour, using the same tail wagging, tail up display in an attempt to get the elk to run. The wolf would approach with its’ head and front legs low to the ground with its’ tail fluffed out and held high as it wagged it back and forth.It would repeatedly approach very close to the elk, who would strike at the wolf with its’ front hooves. It was obvious that the wolf’s display was aggressive and not an invitation to play.
    The elk eventually retreated into the Yellowstone River and waded out deep enough that the wolf was required to swim to get near her. The wolf would start swimming upstream from the elk and try to swim upon the elk. The elk would simply move enough that the wolf would drift by in the current. The wolf finally gave up and left the elk alone.

    • avatar JB says:

      While I understand that body language conveys a lot of information, I am skeptical of “obvious” interpretations. I once watched a coyote exhibit similar behavior with two grizzly cubs in Alaska. Play bow followed by a game of “tag”. Eventually ma bear got tired of the game and chased off the coyote, but not before the coyote and cubs had a good 5 minute game of tag.

      I can’t be sure, but I really don’t believe that the coyote thought he was going to get a meal–not with mom 10 feet away?

  10. avatar Cal McKitrick says:

    I think there could be a number of things at work here. First of all, 610 does not appear to be in an aggressive hunting posture. She is most likely missing her cubs as she would probably be showing them how to hunt.
    The elk are about to give birth. Running from a grizzly at this point is probably not the best thing for them so the herd may be protective and willing to try to stand off the bear especially when not being aggressive.

    Great video Daryl!

  11. avatar WM says:

    I am thinking the phrases “Temporary Co-existence,” may be equally applicable title here. Once the hunger sensation begins to kick in, there is no co-existence for the grizzly predator and its potential meal source prey. While some elk seem to be more at ease with the bodily language of the grizzly, others remained fully attentive, and one quick move by any individuals of the herd and they are all gone. Large herd survival with minimal caloric loss for the groups tends to support the theory each animal only need be faster than its slower (older, younger, weak, injured or heavily pregnant) herd mates at the fringes to survive for another day, without spending lots of energy. I think Dr. Mark Hebblewhite has a literature review in one of his papers from a few years back regarding predator avoidance/survival by small and large herds (large herd migratory vs. smaller local resident groups of fewer than 5-10 animals or so) as survival techniques which can vary (his predator of interest was wolves).
    ——

    As for the antlerless buck (at least I presume it was a buck which had shed) and the “playful” wolf. There was no play here (tail wag, yawn of disinterest), other than possible distraction for the wolf to get a quick advantage on the deer, which seemed, by the way, to be more than ready to deliver a little hoof blade action if the wolf got within range. Had there been more than one wolf, this footage might have had different outcome, or the deer may have just chosen to run off at full throttle distancing himself, as he did not appear injured (maybe he just wanted to conserve energy, and by the way, when the deer is doing this it means no eating, so the potential for net caloric loss is present if this goes on for awhile, and may make him more vulnerable at a later time if he is weaker).

  12. avatar Dan says:

    I think the title should be “Knowing the Score.” With a large group of pregnant cows not wanting to take flight, I believe the cows are conveying there would be “hooves of fury” if the bear made a move. The elk are tight grouped showing strength. The bear understands the cows have more sharp stomping hooves than it could defend. The risk of injury is to great. The bear will wait until calves begin to drop when it can grab a calf and run off.

    I once watched a pack of wolves on the steep rocky breaks of the St. Joe above a few elk during early spring when the elk are out on the south facing slopes. A single young wolf moved close to a cow out on a rock ledge and clearly wanted to make a move on it. The rest of the wolves moved up the slope knowing the risk of injury out on those slopes was to great. The young wolf kept taunting the elk. Finally, the alpha barked and appeared to scold the young wolf. The alpha knew the score and knew the elk in that situation had the advantage.

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