Why Are Gray Wolf Populations Dropping?

Gray wolves are native to North America, and they’ve been around since prehistoric times.

They’re also known for their intelligence, strength, and ability to hunt large prey. Unfortunately, due to human encroachment into their natural habitat, gray wolf numbers have decreased dramatically over the years.

Why Are Gray Wolf Populations Dropping

Gray wolves are found throughout Canada and Alaska, and they live in parts of the United States too. The gray wolf population has declined from about 20,000 animals in the 1970s to fewer than 3,500 today.

There are several reasons why the gray wolf population is declining. One reason is because of conflicts between humans and wolves. Another reason is because of climate change. In addition, there are other threats such as disease and poaching.

What Are Grey Wolves?

Gray wolves are actually incredibly social and friendly animals around each other, and usually, live together in packs. Pack size varies depending on the overall size and the abundance of their prey.

In the US Yellowstone National Park, pack size averages about 11.8 individuals. A pack consists of an alpha male and female, two adult breeding pairs, and their offspring.

The pack defends its territory from other, invading groups by howling and marking with urine.

Research in the park since reintroduction has highlighted many advantages of wolf society: cooperative care of young, group hunting of large game, defense of territory and carcasses, and even increased survival rates for infirm individuals.

What Are Gray Wolves Behavior Like?

Wolves are carnivores. They prefer to eat meat, especially big prey like moose and caribou. Wolves are very efficient hunters. In Yellowstone, 90 percent of their winter prey is Elk.

They also kill bison. Wolves are also responsible for killing about 100 bears per year. 

Gray wolves are found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Their ranges have been reduced due to hunting, loss of habitat, and conflict with livestock owners and farmers.

The current population estimate is about 30,000 worldwide, including approximately 15,000 in the United States. There are an estimated 6,500–7,000 gray wolves in Alaska, 2,600–3,100 in the Great Lakes region, and 1,400–1,800 in the Northern Rockies.

Wolves live, travel, feed, and hunt in packs of six to nine individuals. Packs include the alpha pair, the beta pair and sometimes a third member called the omega.

Alpha pairs lead hunts and defend the pack’s territory. Beta pairs help keep the pack together and protect the alpha pair.

Omega pairs stay close to the pack and help raise young. In addition to hunting, wolves also scavenge for food when other sources aren’t available.

Breeding seasons occur once a year in the fall. Pups are born completely helpless and blind. The pack cares for them until they are old enough to hunt on their own.

Young wolves usually stay together for several years before dispersing. The mating season occurs from mid-January to early February. Gestation lasts around 65 days and pups normally give birth to four to seven puppies.

Wolves mostly eat meat, but will sometimes eat plants or even insects.

What Has Been Affecting The Population Drop?

The gray wolf is a very intelligent animal that can learn new things quickly. This means that if it’s exposed to something new or different, it will be able to adapt to it just like any other animal would.

However, the gray wolf doesn’t always get to do this because of its limited habitat.

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the biggest factors affecting the survival rate of the gray wolf. As the world gets warmer, the habitats where gray wolves live become smaller.

Smaller habitats mean less food and water, which makes it harder for the gray wolves to survive.

Humans Intervention

Human activity is another factor that affects the gray wolf population. For example, when people build roads through forests, they make it easier for hunters to find a game.

When hunters kill these animals, it reduces the amount of food available to the wolves.

Also, some people don’t want to see wolves because they think that they look scary. These people may shoot at them or trap them.

Why Are Gray Wolf Populations Dropping (1)


Poachers often illegally take wild animals from their homes. Sometimes poachers even sell the animals on the black market. If an animal dies during a conflict with humans, then it becomes illegal to keep it alive.


Diseases are another threat to the survival of the gray wolf. Diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and rabies can affect the health of the wolves.

Yellowstone is the largest national park in the contiguous United States, covering 1,338 square miles in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It is also the oldest national park in the country, established in 1872.

When Did The Gray Wolf Population Begin To Drop?

In 1973, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf (Canis loupis) as an endangered species, and its range was reduced to the Great Plains states and Alaska.

In 1978, the Endangered Species Act required the FWS to designate critical habitat for the gray wolf.

In 1995, the FWS proposed designating the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as a Recovery Area, where the gray wolf could thrive.

The proposal was approved in 1996. In 2001, the agency issued a final rule listing the gray wolf as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2005, the U. S Fish and Wildlife Service published a draft plan for the reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The plan called for the release of captive-bred wolves from Canada and northwest North America.

The first two wolves were released in 2007. Since then, there have been at least 31 releases of wolves from Canadian breeding facilities.

In 2018, the U. S Department of Agriculture announced that the USDA will continue to fund the reintroduction program through 2022.

Final Thoughts

Wolves are one of the most misunderstood creatures. They are not dangerous; they are very intelligent and social animals. They are known to be friendly toward humans.

However, if you get too close to a wolf, it might attack. This is why it is important to stay away from them. Also, for the safety of these animals, it’s best to stay clear of them in the wild as you would any other wild animal.

Wolves play a key role in helping keep the deer and elk population in check, which benefits many other plants and animals. Their carcasses also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the positive ripple effect. 

Mindy Russel
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