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What Happened When Wolves Were Introduced Back Into Yellowstone National Park

Updated July 29, 2020 12 items

Good news is rare in the world of environmental sciences but what happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park can only be described as a fantastic occurrence. After monitoring recently introduced wolf populations in places where they've been extinct for years, scientists proved that these natural predators were responsible for an influx of new life; they completely reconstructed an entire ecosystem for the better.

Wolves are hardy creatures that are able to adapt for their own survival and in the last few decades their population has started to recover after a dramatic decline caused by human hunting. This resurgence has been facilitated by programs in national parks like Yellowstone, where the staff actively works to conserve endangered wolves and prevent crossbreeding between other canine species.

Even the most intelligent scientists and preservationists couldn't have predicted the scope of change the wolves could bring to the park, though. It's likely that the Yellowstone National Park wolves are largely responsible for saving the whole ecosystem from total collapse. While it might seem impossible that one species could be so important to a particular environment, this story proves that the world would be much worse off if it weren't for wolves.

  • Wolves Were Extinct In Yellowstone For 70 Years

    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    As European settlers moved west across the United States, they came into increasingly aggressive conflicts with wolf packs. At the time, wolves were viewed as agricultural pests who survived at the expense of farmers' livestock. Concentrated extermination efforts were performed by the government at the behest of wealthy farm owners and resulted in a full-on wolf genocide. By the year 1950, there were hardly any wolves anywhere in the entire country besides Alaska's wild lands. 

  • Without Wolves, Yellowstone's Biosphere Was Thrown Off Balance

    With many of the country's wolves so close to extinction, many different ecosystems suffered radical changes. Prey animal populations exploded and their growth remained unchecked for decades. Certain animals were able to graze endlessly without fear of predatory pressure and this newfound freedom led to an avalanche of side effects that negatively impacted nearly every species in the park.

  • In 1995, Grey Wolves Were Reintroduced To The Park

    Photo: Barry O'Neill / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Environmentalists eventually realized the critical role that wolves play in their ecosystems and a movement to reintroduce the locally extinct grey wolf back into Yellowstone succeeded in 1995. Wolves from the Jasper National Park in Canada were brought to the United States so that they could establish a breeding population in America once more.

  • The Wolves Had To Be Acclimated To Their New Home

    Eight wolves were initially brought to the American national park but keeping them there proved to be quite a challenge. There was a looming risk that the wolves would find their new home unfamiliar and attempt to migrate further north to their original terrain. The biologists at the park eventually constructed a fenced enclosure which they used to acclimate the transplants to their new environment. They even left elk corpses around the perimeter of the enclosure to show the wolves what they could expect to eat in their new home.