There's no question that brown bears reign supreme in Alaska's wild spaces, but during a recent sighting in Denali National Park and Preserve, one of the umber heavyweights surprised tourists when it yielded to a pair of roving wolves.  


Some have speculated that the bear may have been sick, and the wolves – sensing its weakness – were pursuing it as a meal, but that's an unlikely scenario.

For starters, the bear looks to be agile and alert, and it's a hefty specimen, too. But appearances aside, even a sickened animal would make a formidable opponent for any canid duo.

As wolf populations begin to bounce back, biologists elsewhere have observed similar interactions between the two species. In Yellowstone National Park, for example, wolves have been seen trudging at the heels of bears in curious fashion. The behavior almost always arises when a bear gets too close to a wolf pack's home-base. Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project leader Doug Smith explains that the aroma of a wolf den – described as a mix of wet dog and stale bone – is enough to draw the bears in, and when that happens, the wolves team up to drive the sizeable intruders away. 

"The [brown bears] are more powerful, but the wolves are quicker and out-number the bear," Smith told MyYellowstone. "It's always interesting to see the interaction. "It's almost like the wolves are the mosquitoes buzzing around the bear's head. Although individual mosquitoes can't overpower you, if there are enough of them, they'll win. That's sometimes what happens with grizzlies and wolves. The bear gets near the den, and wolves just annoy the heck out of him." Bolder pack members have even inflicted a few backside nips on retreating bears.

It's possible that the wolves in the Denali video had a den in the area, too: pups are born here in early spring and won't travel with the pack until they're seven to eight months old. (Of course, that's only speculation, but we've reached out to local experts and will update you as details surrounding the encounter become clearer.)

Interestingly, the balance of power between hungry carnivores shifts quickly when fresh meat is on the table. Just last month, Alaska native Tim Peters watched a bear steal a caribou kill from an entire pack of Denali grey wolves. Smith notes that he's seen similar carcass theft in Yellowstone, with one bear defending its stolen spoils against a group of 24 wolves. 

While such carnivore competition might seem concerning, a recent study led by researchers at Utah State University (USU) suggests that at least some packs may be more used to "sharing" with bears than previously thought. It's reasonable to assume that wolf packs robbed of prey would kill more often to make up for their losses, but USU ecologist Dr Aimee Tallian and her colleagues found this wasn't the case in both Scandinavia and Yellowstone. 

Tallian surmises that this points to wolves being more patient after a bear theft than mountain lions and other predators: waiting around for the bear's leftovers may be more beneficial than using up energy on a second kill. On the other hand, it may be the direct result of bears and wolves competing for prey like juvenile moose. 

"We think this may be the case, in the spring, when newborn ungulates make easy pickings for bears," she says. "It may simply take more time for wolves to find calves, when there are fewer of them."



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