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Wolves scats - a precious tool for biologists

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

big wolf scat with just prey hair

Scats contain several information useful for biologists. Just by finding a scat, it is possible to know if a species occurs in the area and when examine scats, we can find what the animals are eating, if they are healthy, if reproduction is occurring, if the scat is from a male or a female and even the minimum number of individuals within a population and how much they are related to each other.

When you go on the field, is relatively simple to identify a wolf scat, since it has the shape of a regular (big) dog scat but it is usually filled with hairs from their prey.

Knowledge about wolves’ diet is extremely important, since variations on the consumption of different prey may help to effectively apply preventive measures of wolf attacks on domestic animals. As generalist predators, wolves feed opportunistically on what is most available in their habitat. Being so, when their natural prey are scarce, they feed on domestic animals. This creates conflicts with humans, causing one of the main threats to wolf populations: direct persecution by man.

In Portugal, wolves mainly prey on domestic animals such as sheep, goats, cows, horses and donkeys, except in our study site. Around Montesinho Natural Park, species as roe deer, red deer and wild boar are the most frequent prey. Having a small impact on livestock, people learnt to appreciate wolves, having in mind the services wolves may provide. When preying on wild animals, such as boars and red deer, wolves control their populations and reduce their impacts in agriculture and silviculture. Additionally, mesopredators, such as red foxes, genets, badgers and stone martens, avoid areas claimed by these top carnivores, which reduces the impact of these animals on smaller domestic ones and on game hunt. Furthermore, as wolves usually prey on weak and sick animals, they prevent the dissemination of diseases, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis, on wild and domestic animals.

Wolves can fast for several days when food is not available, but they are also capable of eating 10Kg of meat at once. Despite that, wolves usually eat an average of 3 to 5Kg of meat per day and, if they do not eat the entire carcass, they will store it by burying it far away from the killing site.

Red deer carcasse preyed by wolves at Montesinho

Diet is just one of the many information that you can obtain from wolf scats, but it surely helps biologists doing their job. Since wolves are a very shy and elusive species, if you find a scat next time you go to the field it assures you that maybe they are watching you!

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