Perplexingly, Cougars Are Killing Wolves, Even Though They Used to Peacefully Coexist

Kori Williams - Author

Sep. 15 2023, Published 4:53 p.m. ET

A cougar standing on a boulder.
Source: iStock

Some animals coexist together in the wild very peacefully. But in some instances, over time and for different reasons, changes may occur and upset the balance between them.

For years, cougars and wolves coexisted in a particular kind of way. But as of late, officials are trying to figure out why cougars are killing wolves so often.

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Previously, wolves were the ones attacking cougars. But in the 2020s, the tables have turned and more wolves are losing their lives to cougars. This change in behavior could speak volumes to the ways that humans have disrupted the way animals interact with each other and their environments.

A cougar sitting on a rock.
Source: iStock
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Why are cougars killing wolves?

According to Washington State's Department of Fish and Wildlife, cougars are killing wolves because the two have to increasingly compete for resources. They hunt for the same prey and their habitats often overlap within the U.S. Each one of them is trying to get their food before the other can. This results in conflicts between them that have led to this issue.

Although it may seem unlikely, cougars can kill wolves. Wolves are pack animals, and they would generally have the advantage over cougars. But these large cats are able to turn the tables if they can escape into the trees and wait until a wolf is on their own. And this method seems to be working. Since 2013, Washington's wildlife department has documented six cases where these cats have fought wolves and won.

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A Gray Wolf in Colorado.
Source: iStock

Although six cases may not seem like a lot, it speaks to a big change between the two species. A biologist for Washington state, Trent Roussin, states that when this phenomenon began "most biologists who studied wolves and cougars couldn’t think of an instance of a wolf being killed by a cougar."

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Unfortunately, Washington state officials still have no idea why cougars have turned on wolves in this way. Although they are still looking into the matter, the issue is surprisingly confined to this state even though there are populations of both wolves and cougars across the country. But it may be likely that human interaction is lowering the number of prey animals in the area. People have caused both habitat loss and extinction in numerous animals over time.

Humans may have had a huge impact on how cougars and wolves interact.

Although it's not clear what's happening with the cougars in Washington, we do know that humans have negatively impacted these cats in other areas. In California, their numbers are already shrinking and there's a push to prevent luxury housing from being built in an area where cougars live. To build this housing, over 300 acres of habitats would be lost.

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Gray Wolves in Colorado
Source: Getty Images

In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture points out that the Eastern Cougar is a victim of habitat loss. During the course of 11 years, between 1979 and 1990, in Florida, half of all cougar deaths were because of highway collisions. In fact, two of the main reasons given for this cat's drop in population are hunting by humans and habitat loss. In 2018, the Eastern Cougar was declared extinct.

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