Reform school for wolves
Things are shocking for three wolves on Ted Turner's ranch near Bozeman, Mont. For the past several weeks they have been serving time in what one wolf biologist calls "reform school," an experiment that managers hope will stop wolves from killing cattle. In a few weeks, when a beef calf is added to the wolves' half-acre pen, the predators will be wearing shock collars, devices designed to emit a strong jolt of electricity. When the wolves come within a certain distance of the calf, it's zap time.
Mike Phillips, head biologist for the Turner Endangered Species Fund, says shock collars are nothing new. Dog trainers frequently use them to break animals of bad habits; one or two lessons usually do the trick.
The goal is to teach the wolves that beef is not what's for dinner. When they learn their lesson, they'll be released back on their home turf, just north of Yellowstone National Park, says Ed Bangs, wolf recovery team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Defenders of Wildlife and several government agencies are cooperating with the experiment, but there are plenty of skeptics in the local ranching community.
"It's well-intentioned people grasping at straws," says Bob Taylor, a wildlife biologist who consults with a Montana group urging stronger control on wolves. He says once the wolves are free, they can quickly unlearn anything taught them in the pen on Turner's ranch. "How much harder is it for a wolf to learn you can't attack cattle in a pen but can attack them outside a pen?"