It’s a Sunday afternoon this summer. A herd of bison graze northern Indiana plains. Wolves approach from the wooded area to assess their prey.
People sit in bleachers nearby, to observe.
This is part of the Wolf Park “Wolf/Bison Demonstrations” held Sundays May 1st-November 30th. Park visitors may watch as the wolves run out to capture their prey.
Well, as the wolves attempt to capture their prey. Full-grown bison stand up to 6-feet high, and weigh up to 800 pounds. The wolves weigh up to 90 pounds. Wolves might try to join forces to single out a weak bison, yet in Wolf Park, all the bison are healthy.
A little background on bison
An estimated 60 million American bison, mostly referred to as the buffalo, populated the North American plains in the year 1800. Indians hunted them for food and hides. The new settlers hunted bison for the same.
As tension rose between the Indians and settlers, United States soldiers wiped out herds of buffalo to thwart Indians’ livelihood.
As railroads stretched across the country, thousands of bison were killed to feed the construction crews. Once running, Railroad lines appealed to passengers by touting the sport of shooting bison that ran alongside the trains.
By 1900, less than 300 wild bison roamed the North American plains. This century-long massacre also decimated bison’s natural predators, such as wolves.
Wolf Park demonstrations
“Wolves are hardwired to hunt at any opportunity,” says Holly Jaycox, managing director of Wolf Park. Historically, throughout their existence in the wild it was imperative they grab food when food was available. “If they waited until they were hungry, it was too late.”
When the wolves at Wolf Park are let out to the bison pasture, their hunting instinct kicks in, she says. “They check if this is a good opportunity. They test the bison to find out if they’re healthy prey or weak prey.”
What happens from there remains unpredictable.
“The wolves will run up to the bison, and the bison might charge back,” Ms. Jaycox says. “Or the wolves circle their prey, then decide it’s more rewarding to chase a mouse.”
One thing is predictable. The wolves do not capture their bison prey. The Wolf Park staff need not intercede for this, as the healthy bison defend themselves.
The Wolf Park staff explain the goings-on. The demos last up to 45 minutes before the wolves decide they cannot conquer the bison.
Bison return to feeding on the grass.
No worries about the wolves. Visitors are welcome to stay after the demonstration as Park staff feed the wolves. Food includes local road kill, stillborn calves from local farms. O yes, back to nature, a la 2011.
Wolf Park reveres the resident wolves as “ambassadors to their wild relatives.” The Park wolves are socialized to be among humans. Wolf Park accommodates wolves’ wild nature. Wolves may run free along seven acres throughout the reserve. They’re brought to the bison pasture, to show their hunting nature during Sunday Wolf-Bison demonstrations.
The Wolf-Bison demos are part of Wolf Park Sunday general admission, at $8/ adult – $6 for kids 6-13.
UPDATE: This article was initially published in Romantic’s summer, 2011. Since January this year, the wolf-bison demos have been suspended, and Wolf Park is appealing the suspension. For more info, visit Wolf Park Wolf-Bison demo.
photos by Monty Sloan/Wolf Park