While Old Faithful, a cone geyser located in the Yellowstone National Park, wasn’t always so lush, the park was once a victim to erosion, defoliation and an unbalanced ecosystem. But 1995 came as the turning point, when everything changed.
A year when wolves paved their way back to the park, 1995 came as a countermove in the backdrop of government’s predator control program that eradicated the gray wolf from all of America’s 48 states. The elimination of the wolves had resulted in a steep increase in the deer and elk populations that started overgrazing willows and vegetation which are indispensible for riverbank structure, leaving the landscape exposed to erosion. Subsequently, the park’s whole ecosystem suffered.
This short film above, drew worldwide attention with more than 25 million views on YouTube, provides a fascinating explanation for the turnaround in Yellowstone. Enriched with the voice of British writer George Monbiot, the documentary echoes an infectious zeal as he describes how wolves bolstered the park.
He says, “We are all aware how wolves kill many animals, but perhaps we don’t know that they also give life to many others.” A vast majority of our know-how of these animals focuses on their possible threat to us, rather than their biological importance.
One amongst the top predators in Yellowstone, wolves hold together the delicate balance between prey and predator. Their elimination in the early 20th century disturbed food webs and paved the way for a “trophic cascade,” when wolves’ natural prey such as elk multiplied, consuming swelling amounts of foliage. The phenomenon was reversed when the wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone.
When wolves were reintroduced to the park, they did an exceptional job by killing elk and influencing the prey’s behavior patterns. After realizing a potential threat in valleys and gorges, the herbivores started avoiding these areas. Consequently, these areas rejuvenated and marked the return of the species such as beavers, birds, bears and mice. Plant life also thrived along the banks of the river, decreasing erosion significantly. As a result of stabilization, the rivers had to change the course of their flow.
So, that’s how the reintroduction of a minor population of wolves, transformed the dimensions of the whole landscape.