It died of birthing problems
Last week there was a big story about how wolves had killed a cow in the foothills above Eagle, Idaho, which most of you probably know is just west of Boise. Well, Carter Niemeyer, – the Montana western supervisor for Wildlife Services from 1975-1990 and the Wildlife Services Montana wolf specialist for the following 10 years until he took a post in Idaho as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery coordinator – did his own investigation and says that wolves didn’t kill the cow.
Here are the comments that I received today from Carter about the findings of his own investigation:
The ranch foreman in charge of the cow herd near Eagle, who reported a dead cow to Wildlife Services, was gracious enough to let me, my wife, Jenny, and Suzanne Stone (Defenders of Wildlife) take a look at the cow carcass. The cow had been dead for nearly a week. The foreman found the cow laying immediately next to a county road with the rest of the herd during a routine check and feeding. A large oval feeding site on the neck resulted in a lot of blood flowing onto the ground which looked pretty dramatic in a picture he showed me. There was another feeding site on one hind leg, also oval-shaped, which exposed flesh and connective tissue. The teats of the cow had been chewed off of the udder. His comment to me was that the whole scene took him by surprise and was nothing he had seen before.
Eventually the dead cow was reported to Wildlife Services and a trapper was sent to conduct a necropsy on the cow. Wildlife Services concluded (according to a newspaper account) that the cow was killed by at least two wolves, one that attacked the front of the cow and the other that attacked the rear. This is basically the story I read in the paper. When I examined the cow, I was at a disadvantage in that I didn’t get to see the fresh carcass that Wildlife Services did, but I can tell you that the cow was not killed by wolves or any other predator.
The ranch foreman told me that a lot of neighbors and ranchers have been seeing wolves around the area. I don’t dispute that wolves could be just about anywhere nowadays. When asked if any wolf tracks were found around the cow, he said that the ground was frozen, which would be expected on these cold nights, but on the other hand, wolves could have easily left tracks in the fine sand on the county road just above the carcass. Coyote tracks were visible, even with all the tromping around by cattle. The conclusion by Wildlife Services that wolves killed the cow has cemented a mindset in the cattle owner, as well as neighbors and the US Fish and Wildlife Service: wolves are to blame, and to answer that mindset, a kill order was issued. An airplane is being used to hunt for the wolves since traps and other ground control tools would most likely end up catching coyotes and dogs, which frequent the area.
The reasons I don’t believe that wolves killed the cow are the result of basic investigation techniques on an intact carcass: There are no wounds on the cow that would have resulted in its death. The cow weighed an estimated 1,400 pounds – one of the largest beef cows I’ve ever examined. While the blood sounds graphic and the holes in the cow sound convincing, I saw no slash marks, bite wounds or any other evidence that the cow was brutally brought down by wolves. After 25 years of looking at depredation scenes, I can tell you that a 1,400 pound cow does not go down without a fight, and that wolves would have to do a tremendous amount of biting to the muscles to render her helpless. A point I need to make here is that in all my years of investigating wolf damage to livestock I have verified only two incidents where wolves have killed adult cows. I have never seen a situation where a bull, mule or horse have been killed. I’ve had more opportunity than most people to investigate wolf damage to livestock, so I am telling you, without equivocation, that it would be an extremely rare incident to see wolves kill large livestock. Wolves do not expend a lot of energy killing large prey unless they are hungry, regardless of the stories being told in the media and on blogs. When they do kill large prey, an individual wolf can consume 10-20 pounds of meat in a single feeding. Very little meat was eaten from the cow carcass except from visits by coyotes and an eagle.
My conclusion regarding what killed this cow is rather simple and undramatic. I noticed that the cow had a full term calf positioned near the birth canal and was very close to giving birth. There was no sign of a struggle, no earth torn up, nothing. A person could imagine that the wolves jumped her while she was laying down. Although possible, then the wolves would have had to gently eat a hole in her neck and on the edge of her hind leg. Wolves aren’t gentle when they kill livestock or any other prey. Wolf predation isn’t pretty. It involves a lot of mangled muscle tissue and severe trauma. The surrounding tissue near the oval feeding sites showed no evidence of trauma and injury. I think the cow was dead or near death and coyotes chewed on her either just before death or right after she died. I don’t think wolves had anything to do with it. No tracks, no injuries, no trauma = no wolf attack. Coyotes are in the area and we saw two of them coming down the ridge toward the carcass, a hundred yards away as we were leaving.
I am no longer employed by any agency, and my opinion doesn’t change the outcome of this event. The government has authorized some wolves to die and I don’t expect that my conclusions will change that outcome either. I just wanted to express my opinion and remind the public that livestock depredation incidents need to be investigated professionally, and with transparency and oversight, because I think wolves have been, and continue to be, taking a bad rap for problems they do not create.
“The mission of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) is to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.”
Wildlife Services’ Idaho director Mark Collinge recently retired and now Todd Grimm is the acting director. Under his leadership it appears that Wildlife Services has made a faulty determination about this case and has used it as an excuse to use an airplane to fly over the Boise foothills in search of wolves to kill. They also allowed this to become a very big story in the Idaho Statesman which garnered more attention than stories about what this year’s legislature is doing. This should be disturbing to anyone who cares about wildlife and the animosity that Wildlife Services holds against wolves. There needs to be some hard questions asked of them.
Here is one of the stories which appeared in the Idaho Statesman:
Wolves kill cow in Foothills near Eagle
Federal wildlife officials have done two flyovers but can’t locate the predators.
BY KATY MOELLER – Idaho Statesman
Earlier fear mongering by Todd Grimm.
Residents React to Nearby Wolf Attack; Investigators Hunt – KIVITV.COM | Boise. News, Breaking News, Weather and Sports-.
I wonder how 2 wolves could “grab it by the front and by the rear and just separate” a 1400 lb cow without leaving any evidence of struggle. The story shows the oval wounds and a small tuft of hair missing, something a magpie or coyote could do to a dead cow.
According to the Western Beef Resource Committee
Calving difficulty (dystocia) is the leading cause of death in calves. Oregon surveys indicated that 53 percent of all calf deaths occur within 24 hours of birth. Montana data indicate that 57 percent of all calf losses are associated with dystocia. The recent trend in the beef cattle industry has been to produce larger animals that have larger birth weights and a higher incidence of dystocia. Most studies agree calf birth weight is the major cause of difficult births, but pelvic area, sex of calf and heifer weight also contribute to the problem. A table in this publication shows the relative importance of calf birthweight, pelvic size and calf sex as causes of dystocia.