At least four GPS-collared Washington wolves have been killed by cougars in the last nine years, a rate higher than seen in the Northern Rockies over a data set twice as long.
And state managers say “it’s likely there are more cases that we don’t know about.”
I remember reporting back in 2014 on one of the first if not the first wild dog known to have been killed by a big cat, in Northeast Washington. A photo of that black-coated wolf’s carcass and brief note was published in one of WDFW’s Wildlife Program reports.
Fast forward to 2022 and at least two wolves were killed by cougars in late summer, a WDFW monthly report stated, including a Dominion Pack yearling whose collar gave off a mortality signal in early September.
“When WDFW wolf biologist Trent Roussin tracked down the collar in this incident, he found it on a dead wolf in a steep, thickly treed canyon. His investigation revealed that a cougar killed the wolf,” WDFW reported in a Medium blog post this morning.
The wolf’s skull showed trademark holes where the lion bit its brain.
“From all the signs at the site, it appears the wolf was attacked while traveling down an old overgrown logging road, with the fight ending about 100 yards downhill,” Roussin said, according to WDFW.
State wolf managers also believe an uncollared pup found near the site of a moose carcass in northern Stevens County was killed by a cougar guarding the kill. It’s believed the Smackout Pack originally took down the moose, with the loss of an adult female wolf that was likely “kicked or stomped” during the attack, and then at some point afterwards, a cougar took over the carcass and killed the pup at the site.
“(Roussin) initially thought it might be a coyote that was killed trying to get in on the action of scavenging the moose carcass,” WDFW reported. “Further examination proved it to be from a wolf pup. A follow-up call to the people [USFS employees] who had originally found the site revealed that they had encountered a cougar near the moose carcass, and it appeared to be defending something.”
Early on in the wolf recolonization of Washington I kept a fairly exhaustive list of all the ways wolves were dying – roadkills, lethal removals, poaching, etc. – but it seems pretty remarkable that the state would see such a relatively high number of mortalities at the fangs and claws of cougars.
Indeed, when WDFW biologists first took note of wolf-cougar interactions, they started talking to counterparts in nearby states.
“It was uncommon enough that when staff started asking about this, most biologists who studied wolves and cougars couldn’t think of an instance of a wolf being killed by a cougar,” said Roussin for the WDFW blog. “It was unusual during the first 20-plus years of wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies – Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.”
Both predator species largely prey on the same animals. That said, wolves hunt more open areas where they can chase down their prey, while cougars like rougher, more cluttered ground from which they can launch ambushes.
The joint WDFW-University of Washington Predator-Prey Project in Northeast Washington and the Okanogan may also yield information on cougar-wolf interactions. Pretty fascinating!