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Wolves do not prefer to prey on livestock

Wolves do not pose as much of a threat to grazing livestock as previously thought, particularly when they have access to natural landscapes, according to a new study from the University of Göttingen. An investigation into the feeding behavior of Mongolian wolves revealed that they prefer to feed on wild animals, even when grazing livestock is widely available.

In collaboration with colleagues from the Senckenberg Museum, study lead author Nina Tiralla analyzed 137 wolf droppings collected in Mongolia between 2008 and 2012. 

“We were able to show that 89 percent of the wolves’ diet consisted of wild ungulates, predominantly Siberian roe deer,” said Tiralla. “The remaining 11 percent consisted of small mammals such as hares or mice.”

The experts even found traces of insects and berries in the droppings, but there was no trace of farmed animals. “This was surprising for us because previous studies had shown grazing animals to be the main food source for wolves.”

Previous research has suggested that the diet of wolves in Central Asia consists mainly of grazing livestock. This could cause increasing conflict between nomadic livestock herders and wild predatory animals like wolves. 

There are more than 40 million grazing animals in Mongolia. These animals serve as a source of food, as well as the only source of income, for more than half of the population. Livestock cultivation is gradually transforming Mongolia’s landscape, and one third of the country is now used for pastureland. As areas close to nature are being converted, conflict between livestock and wild animals like wolves is inevitable.

The new study indicates that the likelihood of conflict depends a lot on the landscape. Unlike the earlier studies on Mongolian wolves, the samples examined in this study come from near-natural regions with high species diversity. 

“Although there is also a supply of grazing animals here, the wolves seem to prefer wild animals such as the Siberian roe deer as prey, possibly because they are easier and less dangerous to hunt,” explained the researchers. 

The experts concluded that when wolves live in a near-natural and species-rich landscape with sufficient prey, they pose only a very low threat to grazing livestock. This is most likely the case not only in Mongolia, but in other countries as well. 

The study is published in the journal Mammalian Biology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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