A wolf watcher captured an incredible scene recently while filming in Yellowstone National Park. The video, which Michael Sypniewski posted to Instagram on June 15, shows two wolves tearing at the neck of a bison calf. But before the powerful canines can bring the calf down, a pair of adult bison gallop into the frame in unison—smashing the wolves head-on and saving the small calf from an untimely fate. Watch the wild scene unfold for yourself below.
“To say this calf was lucky would be an understatement,” Sypniewski wrote in his Instagram post. “This young bison was sleeping on the outskirts of its herd when it was caught off guard by a group of wolves. Separated from the herd, I thought for sure the wolves were on their way to securing an easy meal.”
The size of the herd that the bison belonged to isn’t evident in the short clip that Sypniewski shared on Instagram, nor is the particular location within the vast National Park where the incident took place. What is obvious is the brute strength of two adult bison working in tandem to save a more vulnerable member of the herd from a predatory attack.
“[They] came barreling onto the scene to protect the youngster,” wrote Sypniewski, “almost trampling the calf in the process.” The calf stumbled in the wake of its larger brethren but quickly regained purchase. Then, all three bison gallop out of the frame while the somewhat subdued wolves followed, halfheartedly nipping at their heels.
Sypniewski attributes the miraculous rescue that he managed to catch on film to a stroke of luck, but it’s actually quite common for Yellowstone bison to successfully defend their calves from predatory wolf attacks. Bison are simply too large and too agile for wolves to take on in many scenarios. According to the National Park Service, when threatened, bison can quickly accelerate to speeds above 35 miles-per-hour—which gives them “an advantage when fighting predators that aim for hindquarters.”
In a paper published in the Journal of Mammology in November 2000, researchers detected only 14 wolf-killed bison throughout the course of a three-year study. The study found that Yellowstone wolves prefer to prey on elk over bison because they’re more abundant and easier to take down.