Wolves Strongest Driver Of Mountain Lion Decline

Nov 12, 2020

M68 run off kill by alpha wolf
Credit Panthera

For the past 17 years, researchers have been tracking mountain lions, also called pumas, north of Jackson Hole. When they started the research, the population was around 20 to 25 adults, but now it's down to about 10 adults. 

"Wolves were the strongest driver of mountain lion declines," said Dr. Mark Elbroch, Puma Program Director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.

He said the mountain lions have changed their behaviors in order to stay away from wolves.

"They adapted in many ways. They shifted where they hung out on the landscape. They stayed close to rocks or big trees where they could climb to escape wolves," said Elbroch. "But over the course of the study, we saw their food being stolen by wolves, we saw wolves become the dominant and leading cause of death for mountain lion kittens."

But for Elbroch, this gives some insight to what was happening in North America 300 years ago. 

"I think this study provides some really interesting insights into what a natural population would look like, a natural ecology," he said. "And that mountain lions, yes, they're going to be less abundant. It doesn't mean they're gonna be eradicated by wolves. Absolutely not. Wolves [and] mountain lions learn to live with them."