Thursday, January 13, 2011

Decline in Yellowstone's Elk Population

A female elk (called "cow")

Recently, government scientists pointed out that the elk population in Yellowstone's northern range have declined steeply due to predation by grizzly bears and wolves. The population in the national park's northern section have been prized by local hunters, who hunt them outside its boundaries and by millions of visitors pouring in each year to see the wildlife. Statistics from the latest survey have shown that the population had plummeted rapidly by more than seventy percent since the reintroduction of wolves in 1995, decreasing from 6,070 animals in December 2009 to 4,635 last month. Although bears and wolves were initially blamed for the downfall, biologists also say that two other factors had played a major role in the process. The Northern Yellowstone Cooperative Wildlife Working Group stated that hunting and a drought that plagued the national park in the early 2000s reduced the number of forage for the elk, and lowered the reproduction rate. The group further added that a decline in the numbers of wolves and bears in recent years had also contributed to the decrease in the elk population. The wolf numbers, which once numbered up to 94 animals in 2007, had fallen down to 37 last year as a result of a public hunt in 2009 and diseases like canine distemper.

This article, in my opinion, gives a clear representation of why populations of keystone species should be deeply considered. In the case of Yellowstone, wolves are the keystone species. They keep the ecosystem in balance by preying on the herbivores. But now, it appears their numbers are critical. The decrease in predator population had resulted into a decline in the prey population almost like a domino effect. I feel that Yellowstone's wolves and bears are in a great need of help, and should be firmly protected in order to maintain the elk population. I also feel that scientists and researchers should be prepared for situations such as droughts, and rehabilitate animals in the need of help amidst such crises. In addition to that, they should also investigate the causes of such environmental catastrophes and come up with solutions to prevent further damage to one of America's most treasured lands. While there has been no report on any drought in the national park recently, it is time to consider helping the wolves and the bears. Without them, the park's ecosystem would turn upside-down.

View article here 

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