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A wolf consumes ten elk in a year on average
Elk meat is staple food of Finnish wolves
By Tapio Mainio
Sasta, an elkhound, pulls at the remains of an elk* which had been killed by wolves in Vieremä.
The carcass was found quite easily with the help of the dog in a thick forest because the wolf had a Global Positioning System (GPS) collar around its neck, which pinpointed the scene of the kill within a distance of ten metres.
Seppo Ronkainen takes samples of the elk for researchers to examine to determine the physical condition of the prey. He also places wolf faeces in a plastic bag for later analysis.
The newest GPS technology has made it easier to get increasingly accurate information about the movements and dietary habits of wolves. This spring the researchers followed the behaviour of four wolves moving around in Juuka and Rautavaara over a period of 50 days.
The GPS collars used to determine the location of the wolves once an hour. If a wolf does not move for several hours, it is likely that the pack has killed an elk. This was confirmed by visiting the location with a dog.
"We found seven elk that had been hunted down by four wolves. If the same rate were to continue throughout the year, it would mean about 13 kills per wolf in a single year. March and April are nevertheless the best months for hunting, so I would estimate that the average catch per wolf would be about ten elk a year", says special researcher Ilpo Kojola of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute.
According to the study, elk meat comprises 95% of the wolf's diet. The remaining five percent is from hares and other smaller animals.
An almost equally effective follow-up is taking place in the regions of Vieremä and Vuolijoki, where Taru and Taro, two wolves fitted with GPS collars, are setting up a group christened by the researchers as the Talas Pack. Taru, a female wolf who moved inland from the Russian border, will give birth to her first cubs in the summer.
During the research period, the wolves did not eat a single dog. It would seem that dogs are random prey for wolves.
"However, there seem to be big differences between packs in the tendency of wolves in East Finland to kill dogs", Kojola says.
Last year wolves killed about 50 dogs in Finland, while they devoured nearly 2,000 elk.
"Radio positioning suggests that wolves that live in established territories tend to avoid summer cottages and human habitation. With the help of GPS, we have a more comprehensive picture of the nocturnal movements of wolves", says researcher Salla Kaartinen.
Similar findings have come from Sweden and Norway, where wolves' dietary habits have been scrutinised as closely in two areas.
"There the number of elk killed by wolves was clearly larger than in Finland. The density of the elk population in Finland is about half of that in the wolf habitat in Scandinavia, and somewhat smaller than in the habitat in North America", Kojola says.
Finland's elk population would sustain a larger wolf population than the present one. Last autumn there were about 150,000 elk in Finland, and the winter population after the autumn hunting season was about 90,000.
Finland had a wolf population of about 1,000 in the mid-19th century. At the end of last year there were 180 - 200 wolves in Finland. The number of pairs of wolves having cubs rose from ten in 2000 to last year's 17. The average size of each litter was 4.3 cubs.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.4.2005
*The European elk referred to in this article are of the Alces alces species, which is known in North America as the moose. It should not be confused with the North American elk, or Cervus elaphus.
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