In a dramatic display of nature’s harshest reality and sharpest edges, a pack of wolves this weekend engaged in a deadly standoff with a lone bison along the Firehole River In Yellowstone National Park — and wildlife photographer Michael S. Cohen was there to capture it in stunning detail.
Elk are still the primary prey of Yellowstone wolves, but they might be getting better at taking down bison, some wildlife biologists said.
Standoff Along The River
The standoff began on Saturday, and reports are that the wolves eventually prevailed and killed the bison, wildlife photographer and frequent Yellowstone visitor Isabella Smedley told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.
The site was accessible only by snowcoach and Smedley said she wasn’t present at the ordeal, but had heard about it from other photographers.
“It’s not the kind of thing I can watch. I don’t have any trouble being there after the fact,” she said.
A request for more information from a National Park Service biologist wasn’t answered by publication time Monday. It wasn’t clear if the bison had been injured or sick before the wolves cornered it.
But Cohen’s photos tell a graphic story of the natural order of predator vs. prey. The bison appears hurt and bleeding from around its tail area as the wolves keep their distance while surrounding it.
In one stunning image, the bison seems to have taken refuge in the freezing river while the wolves, emboldened with teeth bared and hackles raised, seem ready to attack.
One of his final images shows the bison on the riverbank laying in the bloody snow, apparently exhausted as the wolves move in — including one wolf literally licking its chops.
Adapting Their Skills
The wolves said to have killed the bison along the Firehole River were from the Wapiti Lake Pack.
Another wolf pack, the Junction Butte Pack, made an unsuccessful attempt in September to take down a bison that got separated from its herd. The bison in that incident outran the wolves and made it back to the safety of its herd.
Generally speaking, adult bison are too large and onery for wolves to take on. But Yellowstone wolves might be trying to add more bison to their diet, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore specialists Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily.
“There have been some interesting wolf pack dynamics in Yellowstone where certain wolves did develop a pack hunting strategy for bison,” he said.
‘Biggest Wolves Do The Killing’
Thompson couldn’t offer specific comments about the Firehole river takedown. However, wolves are great opportunists.
“Wolves seek out the vulnerable, this is what they do and they are very adept at doing so,” Thompson said.
Retired federal ecologists Chuck Neal of Cody previously told Cowboy State Daily that one Yellowstone wolf pack in particular, the Mollie’s Pack in the Pelican Valley, have gotten good at taking down bison.
“They are the park’s bison specialists, and they produce some of the biggest wolves in the park. Some of the males can reach 140-150 pounds,” he said. “The biggest wolves in the pack are the ones who do the killing, but that also means that they’re the ones who are most likely to get hurt.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.