Scientists Who Released Wolves Into The Wild With Good Intentions Never Expected This Result

It’s no secret that wolves are on top of the food chain. Anyone who’s ever turned on a nature documentary has likely seen footage of a pack of wolves, teeth-barred, expertly chasing a fleeing herd of deer.

So, years ago, when nature experts reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park, they knew the canines would affect the ecosystem there. What they didn’t realize was that by setting free a few wolves into one of America’s most impressive national parks, they were starting a chain reaction with results no one could have predicted.

What happened? Let’s just say the wolves proved themselves to be far more than just hunters. They changed the environment itself…

When looking at photos or videos of wolves chasing down packs of frightened deer, it’s hard not to feel bad for the hunted—and that can give wolves a bit of a bad reputation. As animal experts discovered in the 1990s, though, wolves are practically an environmental necessity.

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Once upon a time, wolves roamed nearly all of the United States. Then, as humans expanded, an all-out war began against Canis lupus, and by the 1950s, wolf populations were suffering.

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By 1960, with the wild canines too often seen as villains—think: the infamous Big Bad Wolf—the species had nearly become extinct across the United States. Areas like Yellowstone National Park had lost them entirely. The unexpected result of this led scientists to do something in the 1990s that would have far-reaching effects few saw coming…

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By the mid-1990s, resulting from their lack of natural predators, deer in Yellowstone soon grazed away most of vegetation there. So, in 1995, experts reintroduced wolves to the park. Astoundingly, this triggered an incredible chain reaction that no one could have predicted.

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As expected, when experts set the wolves loose in Yellowstone, they launched right into a deer-focused meal plan. Because of the overpopulation of deer, the wolves ate like high-rollers at a casino buffet. But the deer were no dummies…

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The deer, as you might have guessed, didn’t really like being eaten, so they didn’t make it easy for the wolves to turn them into venison. In doing so, they began avoiding areas of the park where they could be easily trapped or cornered.

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Soon, valleys and gorges were almost completely deer-free. Without deer eating every bit of vegetation, these areas witnessed tall, powerful trees beginning to emerge from the soil. In just six years, the trees were an average of four times taller than they’d been before!

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Valleysides that had been desolate for years soon welcomed trees and plant life. Thanks to the wolves, Yellowstone was lookin’ pretty fine. So fine, in fact, that birds returned to town. There was, after all, plenty of new real estate for them. But that wasn’t all that happened…

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 Along with the birds, beaver populations began flourishing in Yellowstone, too. After all, beavers were known for their tree-munching tendencies, and with a wealth of new trees to choose from, they were practically in heaven.

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With their numbers booming, the beavers could do what beavers do best: dam building. The abundance of beavers created an abundance of dams in the rivers, which served as habitats for otters, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and more. The ripple effects continued…

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The wolves also hunted coyotes, a low-tier predator in Yellowstone that picked on the little guys—you know, guys like the rabbits and mice. With coyotes less numerous, rabbits and mice proliferated, giving hawks, weasels, and foxes more to eat.

Yellowstone National Park

Hawks, weasels, falcons, and eagles started flooding back into Yellowstone, and soon, biodiversity was once again eye-popping in the park—all because the wolves liked to eat deer. Yet still, the wolves weren’t done engineering change in Yellowstone!

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When the wolves ate the deer and coyotes, they didn’t exactly have the best table manners. They left the remains of their half-eaten pray strewn about the valleys and plains of the Park. But apparently, the wolves could do no wrong, for this too had benefits.

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Some animals saw those leftovers and couldn’t help but lick their lips. Ravens and bald eagles fed on that carrion. Even bears got in on the action! Like the birds, they fed on the wolves’ leftovers without hesitation.

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The bears didn’t just benefit from the wolves’ tendencies not to pick up after themselves. Thanks to the regrowing vegetation, berries were abound, giving the more vegetarian-inclined bears a chance at a well-balanced meal. Soon, bear populations grew.

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Unbelievably, the wolves didn’t just have a paw in regenerating the flora and fauna. By simply hunting curbing the overpopulation deer, the wolves changed the very topography of Yellowstone itself! Here’s how…

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Experts have known predators can change their ecosystem in a phenomenon called trophic cascade, but the wolves’ impact on this process was greater than expected. As their presence led to repopulated forests, stabilizers for the river banks were created…

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In other words, the regenerated forests kept river banks from eroding, which in turn, kept the rivers “fixed in their course,” as a video by Sustainable Human put it. They didn’t snake and wind as frequently—all because of a few wolves!

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Another way to look at the phenomena that occurred in Yellowstone was that an overpopulation of deer can actually destabilize environments and alter rivers. It just goes to show that, in nature, balance is everything…

Just watch these stunning visuals of Yellowstone as the wolves slowly reengineered a diverse ecosystem. It’s hard to believe that an animal so often seen as villainous can change the world in such a beautiful way!

The far-reaching effects just one animal species can have on Yellowstone is almost unbelievable! Who knew that just a few wolves could so dramatically impact their environment?

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