BUFFALO, N.Y. — An apex predator is one that occupies a top spot in the food chain, without other natural predators. Humans are arguably the ultimate in this category, but even we have harbored a fear of other predators, wolves in particular.
Humanity has long had a love-hate relationship with these striking mammals, and perhaps it's because we have so much in common.
"They care for their young, they're territorial, they provide food for their young, and they disperse when crowded conditions happen. They're a lot like us, and maybe that's why some of us love them, and some of us hate them," explains Joe Allen, Wilderness Trip Leader for Earth Spirit Educational Services.
Wolves now occupy only about 10% of their original range in the continental U.S. and their populations have dwindled to less than 10,000. Still, efforts to re-establish wolves have been moderately successful.
Yellowstone National Park has been a learning lab since 1995 when they restored wolves to the habitat which had seen the last one killed in 1927.
Former UB professor Joe Allen has been leading expeditions there for decades and has seen the effects of their return firsthand.
"One thing that has definitely happened is the population of Elk in Yellowstone has been reduced from about 15,000 animals to about 5 or 6,000 animals, and that can be nothing but positive on the landscape, where there were no predators before, and the Elk just ran roughshod over the ecology."
Two decades later, the Yellowstone wolf population is still relatively small, now under a hundred, but Allen thinks their presence has taught a valuable lesson.
"We can't manage individual species appropriately. We have to manage an entire ecosystem."
The movement to bring back wolves is alive across the country, including the Adirondacks, and they are thriving in Ontario's Algonquin Park, and we here in WNY can help the cause.
"Within our political system, the people who care about wildlife are the ones we should be voting into office," Allen said.
Allen will be leading an excursion with Earth Spirit to Yellowstone this August, and there are a limited number of spaces available. If you're interested in going click here.