Elk NetworkIdaho Panhandle Study: Mountain Lions, Wolves, Weather Take Toll on Elk

General | October 2, 2017

A mortality study carried out by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) in the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe River drainages within Idaho’s Panhandle region indicate mountain lions, wolves and weather conditions are the main predators of elk.

Beginning in 2015, IDFG wildlife researchers placed 172 GPS radio collars on six-month old elk and monitored their movements and locations. The collars activate a signal once the collar did not move for several hours, indicating a death. Researchers then hiked to the site to try to determine what happened.

“Once we get to the location and find the elk, we take a crime scene approach. We conduct a careful search around the carcass looking for predator tracks, hair, drag trails in the dirt or snow, broken branches that indicate a chase, and blood on vegetation or the ground,” said Laura Wolf, IDFG regional biologist.

Wolf says mountain lions are ambush hunters that often first eat the internal organs and cover the carcass with snow, leaves or needles. Wolves, on the other hand, chase prey for long distances and bite them along the way. There is often very little of the carcass remaining from a wolf kill.

Data (see charts) show mountain lions were responsible for 14 percent of young elk kills in 2015-16 and 16 percent in 2017. Wolves were responsible for three percent of elk mortality in 2015-16 and six percent in 2017. Harsh weather conditions in 2017 were responsible for 16 percent of elk mortality.

(Photo source: Idaho Department of Fish and Game)