Wolves may be pushing mountain lions into more marginal habitat NE of Jackson Hole.

This article is in the Jackson Hole News and Guide today. Although it isn’t firmly established, changes in cougar territory in the area near the Teton Wilderness may be due to pressure from wolves.

Jim and Holly Akenson have already found this to be the case in central Idaho (in Big Creek, deep in the Frank Church Wilderness). They found that wolves occupied the best habitat and cougars moved to the more rocky country. Read “Winter Predation and Interactions of Wolves and Cougars in the Central Idaho Wilderness” One caveat, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, was compounding the difficulty cougar were having by encouraging a very high human “harvest” of cougar.

Anti-wolf folks don’t take into account the competition between carnivores and assume that all more wolves means is more elk or deer killed as prey in almost direct proportion. This is just plain wrong, especially when other predators are present.



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  1. ESH Avatar

    Studies such as this demonstrate the complexity of interspecific interactions, as well as some of the major behavioral differences between social and solitary carnivores. Gray wolves in a pack are aggressive, confident, and opportunistic predators, while cougars, by virtue of their independent lifestyle, are far more cautious and retiring. An injury to a cougar is proportionately more serious than to a wolf, which has the support of its pack-mates in securing food and protection.

    This reminds me of the different character and bearing of lions and tigers. Lions — especially males — are confident and antagonistic, literally designed to fight; their social lifestyle permits them, at least as mature males, to serve primarily as defenders of the pride, while the lionesses devote more of their energies to hunting. The solitary tiger, on the other hand, while arguably a more capable killer, is far less aggressive — again because of the inherent risk to its viability as a predator. From what I understand, this dichotomy used to be strikingly apparent in circus environments, where male lions consistently intimidated their tiger cage-mates.

  2. Sally Roberts Avatar
    Sally Roberts

    I would like to see his raw data. I don’t know much about designing a study, or the technology available for tracking animals but….it seems to me that you would have to have some serious data to find this out…such as knowing when the animals are in the same place, at the same time, and whether the cougars are avoiding the wolves. and how does this guy know there aren’t uncollared cougars in the area he is talking about. he says wolves have pushed them out, but does he know where every cat and every wolf is at all times. this seems like just another person trying to blame the wolves for something.

  3. Buffaloed Avatar

    As I recall, over the years there have been several documented interactions with wolves and cougars in the Northern Range of the Yellowstone where the cougars came out on the dead side. I also recall an incident where one of the first Idaho wolves was killed by a moutain lion shortly after reintroduction just inside Montana.

    Granted, I haven’t seen the data, but the results of this study do seem to make sense to me. How this is affecting the cougar population on the population level I don’t know but it would seem to make sense that wolves have displaced cougars from the more open terrain where they are more vulnerable to interactions with wolves.

    The reaction of cougars to wolves is why they are hunted/harrassed using hounds. Cougars routinely climb trees or cliffs in an effort to escape the hounds where they are then shot or photographed by the hunters. I’ve been told even very small dogs illicit this response in some situations.

  4. ESH Avatar

    The book ‘Beast In The Garden,’ documenting cougar expansion into the suburbs of western sprawl, quotes a biologist (perhaps J. Halfpenny? I’m not sure – I don’t have the book at hand) about that very phenomenon concerning mountain lions and dogs. There’s a theory that the panic or distress evoked in a cougar by even a little yapping miniature breed reflects the relationship between mountain lions and wolves. The book goes further to suggest that, with wolves gone from most of mountain lion range for several cat generations, some cougars may be losing this distrust, and preying more readily on domestic dogs. Sorry I can’t quote specific passages here.

    The fear of a pack of large canids makes sense — i.e. wolves or lion hounds — but I’m not sure I understand how a vociferous poodle could raise a cougar’s hackles, considering the cats have long had no qualms about snacking on coyotes.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I’ve posted a lot of wolf versus cougar stories in the last 12 years.

    One on one, a cougar has a great advantage over a wolf, but not over a pack.

    A pack of Yellowstone wolves killed a cougar and her cubs in public view in Yellowstone.

    A “famous” Druid wolf, 163M, “the gray ghost,” was probably killed by a cougar and her cubs when he was ambushed by them high in the Absaroka, east of the Park.

    A cougar grabbed one of two wolves traveling together near Paradise Valley. The surviving wolf appears to have run without trying to help his companion.

    As Buffaloed wrote, one of the early Idaho wolves, wandered to Montana, and was killed by a cougar in Rock Creek, apparently in a fight over a carcass.

    About 7 years ago, a wolf came by two hounds who had treed a cougar in the Salmon River Mountains. The wolf killed one hound, and cougar escaped.

    I’m sure there are more incidents that I missed.

  6. Howard Avatar

    Cougars, and black bears, have good evolutionary reason for climbing trees to get away from what’s on the ground. Cougars, gray wolves, and black bears may seem formidable now, but 10,000 years ago, these guys were NOT the biggest and baddest carnivores around. They had to contend with North American lions, sabre cats, giant jaguars, dire wolves, and the short-faced bear. During the Pleistocene, the cougar was probably much more ecologically akin to a “mountain leopard” than a “mountain lion”.

  7. Mark Avatar

    Actually, the cougars/mountain lions do NOT have an advantage one on one versus a wolf.

    The studies that you mentioned are without some information. The first wolf introduced, was an adolescent and the one where the “mate ran”, there were what they found proof of, between 4-5 cougars.

    I read the official documents, I have studied many of the habits of the animals of Yellowstone, and trust me… by no means is a cougar as dangerous to a wolf as a wolf is to a cougar. Now to humans, a cougar is more dangerous in the sense that a wolf will typically avoid a person, where that’s not always the case with the cougar or mountain lion.

    If wolves were to attack humans, it would be a different story, but that does not happen. Wolves go for the neck of their opponents, while the cats use their claws and their bites aren’t as effective because of their short noses.

    There is an asian video documenting wolf fights with a wolverine, a grizzly bear, and a cougar…. the wolf (on seperate occassions, but I believe it to be the same one), killed all three using a similar tactic. The wolverine it flipped over and got the neck, the cougar it took a few claws as it went in for the neck, and thre grizzly stood up and took a swipe at the wolf with both paws, but missing as the wolf pulled back and then launched at the neck, bringing the giant bear down as it’s neck came out.

    From what I’ve studied and learned, wolves are the best hunters to exist as far as we know it (without weapons that is). It’s amazing how they can survive lone or in packs… they are dangerous in either situation but when in a pack, they are an unstoppable force yet they don’t kill to kill… they kill to eat, so in order for them to have killed these animals it leads me to conclude they starved it somewhat for entertainment purposes. The former site it was posted on confirmed it was released back to its owner (it was a grey wolf by the way) after completeling its three challenges. It’s sad, and I didn’t want to view it but it was really interested and proved many theories by professionals.

  8. Ricky Avatar

    As suggested by several posts the lethality of an encounter between wolf/wolves and a cougar depends mostly on whether it is a pack of wolves or a lone wolf. While wolves are beautiful animals and exceptional cooperative hunters, they are just that; animals designed to hunt in packs. Wolves chase their prey to the point of its exhaustion and then attempt to force it to the ground as a team. This strategy requires exceptional endurance (since all members of a pack must keep up with the prey), but not as much strength or as much “fighting” ability (since all members help out to take down prey).

    The cougar on the other hand, due to its isolated nature, must catch its dinner on its own. It ambushes its prey (which can be as large or larger than the wolf’s) and then struggles with it until it has either suffocated it or separated is cervical vertebra through a bite to the neck. This requires little endurance since there is only a small chase or simply one large jump, but exceptional quickness and power to get to the animal before it can escape and then bring it down.

    Also while wolves have longer muzzles, the bite force of each animal is comparable (though the wolves is stronger). Also while the wolf’s jaws can be thought of more as shears due to the longer length and greater surface area, the cat’s is more like bolt-cutters, applying a similar force to a much smaller area, increasing pressure.

    In a fight though this is the wolves only weapon where as the cat also has claws which can be used to manuever its enemy so as to get a clean bite to the neck with less risk to its own head. The wolf, on the other hand, must go in head first, putting its most dangerous, yet most vulnerable body part, into harms way.

    In a one on one fight the cat clearly has the advantage. It is more powerful, faster, has more weapons and is experienced at killing animals much larger than itself on its own.
    The wolf has greater endurance, but is not as strong or powerful, and must rely on biting to harm a cat.

    Also staged animal fights are exactly what they are; staged animal fights. There is no way to know how any of the animals were treated before the fight. It is also likely that since the wolf had an owner to be released to, those who were staging the fights had incentive to return it. This is also a deplorable and highly biased method to prove professional theories.

    There is also a fight which seems to be in a natural setting which show the cat’s overwhelming advantage over the wolf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrBGySKpUg4

  9. Chris Avatar

    I’ve read that the majority of wolf predatation on musk oxen involved only 1 to 2 wolves. Granted it was rarely observed and in both cases I read about the oxen were female but this does seem to suggest wolves are more capable as solitary hunters than is often believed.
    As for your statement on cougar hunting techniques, I hope that you’ll agree with me that there is a significant difference between hunting for prey and fighting against predators. A moose is far heavier than a tiger yet wolves seem far more confident attacking the moose.
    On the topic of bite force, a rat has a bite of about 7000 psi i believe, which is actually not much considering the small area of the bite. An animal with shorter jaws but a similarly sized head is more likely to generate a higher score than an animal with its muscles working across a longer area.
    I disagree that a cougar would have an advantage in a one on one fight. It may be slightly heavier on average yet the nature of the wolf pack is that that the alpha will often have to fight challengers, and inter-pack conflict between wolves is also fairly common. Cougars on the other hand would likely only come into conflict with other predators over carcasses and during the mating season. The wolf would most likely have more experience (provided it was an alpha) and therefore have an advantage. A wolf is also able to pull down an adult caribou by itself, a feat of strength I have not seen of the cougar. As you said it is an ambush predator, relying on surprise and suffocation to kill its prey.
    I do agree with you on the staged animal fights. It is a sick and disgusting practice to force two animals to kill each other for the sake of amusement and interest.

  10. Chris Avatar

    *sorry i meant observed predation earlier. It is unlikely 1 or 2 wolves would confront a herd.

  11. Sean Avatar

    HEy guys. I’m Sean, hopefully I can help settle this. I own two wolves. A female artic, and a male timber. I am sorry Ricky but your misinformed. The animals bites are in no way shape or form comparable. Wolves have been seen to bite at 1500 PSI. Thats five times more then a pitbull. and more then even a great white shark. Which bites at around 600. I happen to know for a fact that only 2 animals tie the wolf. The alligator snapping turtle and the spotted Hyena. Only the crocodile bites harder at 5000. The african Lion female bites in at around the high 400’s and males have been clocked in at around the mid 500’s. I don’t believe the Pumas are biting in around there much larger cousins, and def not anywhere near the wolf. I often go to the super market and buy Cow thigh bones for my wolves to chew. I can tell you that within minutes they reduce the bone into a fine white powder as they crush and break it. I have even boiled the bones into an effort to harden them and still the same result. As for 1 on 1 fighting My female has unfortunately been in quite a few. (She is a little aggressive when it comes to other dogs being bossy with her)…She also once while kenneled (I was on a cruise) saved some lady from a pitbull. He was a male named Miles and I was told Angel (My female) ran over attacked the pit and killed it saving the lady. She did this without the assistance of her mate. Now I know that a pitbull is a far cry from a puma but I am just giving an example of wolves being very comfortable fighting one on one. I have also seen a wolf kill a Male grizzly while defending her cubs in a one on one situation. Now as far as the outcome of a puma versus a wolf in a one on one situation. To be honest I have seen it go both ways. I have seen this fight alot and it always seems to come down to the first real bite. If the Wolf gets his jaws around the throat of the puma, it is always over. What happens is the Puma generally takes a swing with his paw, the wolf dodges (Wolves are very fast) to the side and then while the puma is still reared darts in grabs the throat, once the wolf has it the wolf turns his head flipping the puma and basically crushes the throat. Now on the reverse side I have seen the wolf either get a bad bite or actually miss altogether and what the puma generally does is roll underneath the Wolf, grabs the wolves shoulders with his claws, bites into the chest and kick his back legs fast along the stomach of the Wolf. It basically guts the wolf and the Wolf dies. So like I said it really depends on who gets the first move and its usually a back and forth thing. It could go to eithers favor on any given day. Its an even split. There really is no definative winner. That being said, a puma has no chance against a Wolf pack 😉

  12. Nonyo Avatar

    that video on youtube is bogus… you don’t watch enough TV or you watch too much, which is it? Do some research…. wolves are even pushing tigers out in india, there is no way a cougar is going to be a match. They are said to be at the top of the foodchain wherever they exist. They are considered to be the best hunters in the world, solo or in a pack besides man with tools/weapons.

    There have been many reports of a lone wolf killing a cougar as the cougar attacked it to steal the kill. Go to yellowstones website and read through the news articles. Cougars/Mountain Lions whatever you wanna call them, are magnificent animals, but most of all the wolves have the upperhand, as they do with all other animals.

    Lions and tigers have a very hard time with prey the size of the buffalo/bison that wolves take down, usually the pack rounds them up and many times the alpha male alone will take out the animal by going for the throat, or if there is a thick mane, they get under and behind it’s throat and angle in. What does that tell you?

  13. Rich Avatar

    The amount of misinformation written here is astounding. I think Mark’s account of the wolf being one of the most efficient hunters while alone is most entertaining. There has never been a documented case of a lone wolf killing a brown bear that was not very young, old or ill. In fact, the mortality rate of a loan wolf is quite high as they typically do very poorly hunting alone. Wolves have also done very poorly against pit-bulls and other canines in dog fights. This is very well documented as unfortunately, if there is money to be made, man will try it. As far as the cougars, there is documented cases of both black bear and mountain lions killing lone wolves.

  14. James Avatar

    Yes, I have to agree that the truth is being lost in the quest to glorify the wolf. Size, power, agility, and weaponry make one on one match between an adult cougar and a grown wolf quickly turn into a quest to stay alive for the wolf. The biggest intimidation factor working for the wolf is that the cat knows he might quickly find himself surrounded and in trouble, and therefore seeks to avoid the encounter all together. As a general rule though, the cat has a huge advantage and knows it. In the known flimed encounters between cat and wolf, you almost always see the intimidation on the prt of the wolf. The wolf charging in the prior video was a rarity (that’s why it is so popular) and the wolf undoubtedly payed with his life. That was also an unusual size comparison (probably due to being staged) usually the smallest adult cougars are weight of the largest wolves, though much stronger, and longer.

  15. W.E. Avatar

    There are documented cases of a Grizzly Bear digging wolf pups out of their dens and two female wolves unable to stop the single Grizzly…….If two wolves can’t stop a bear who is killing their young, how do you suppose a lone wolve can take on a Mountain Lion or bear. I have also seen a video of a very large, healthy Grey Wolf getting the hell beat out of it by a Wolverine…..The wolf had a look of shear fright on its face when the Wolverine grabbed the side of its head.

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Competition between wolves, grizzly bears and cougars has been documented time and time again in Yellowstone, Montana, and Idaho since the wolf was restored.

    A wolf cannot displace a grizzly and rarely can beat a cougar, but wolves are not solitary, so they often prevail. However, even a pack has hard time driving a grizzly from a kill.

    Wolves have killed grizzly cubs and adult cougar in Yellowstone. Perhaps one wolf was killed, at least it was cached by a grizzly. Cougars have killed wolves near Yellowstone and an unfortunate cougar and her kittens were caught in the open in Yellowstone by a wolf pack. Wolf packs killing cougars in the North Fork of the Flathead was documented years ago by Dianne Boyd.

    Studies in Big Creek in central Idaho show that overall wolves clearly displace cougars into more marginal habitat.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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