Dying of wild ungulates in the harsh conditions of too deep snow cover and which scavengers consume their carcasses

Co-author Irina Rotenko

In Belarus deep snow cover conditions higher mortality in wild ungulates in particular wild boars and roe deer.

Deep snow cover in Naliboki Forest (central-western Belarus) in February 2021 and died wild ungulates

For instance, the extremely long-lasting and abnormally snowy the end of winter 2012-2013 (actually March and the first half of April of 2013) impacted dramatically the wild boar population. The majority of them had died. In the winters of 2013-2014 quite precise census of a few wild boars resulted 27 wild boars per 100 square km only. Similar estimates for winters of 2004-2008 averaged 234 wild boars per 100 square km. For the roe deer population the decline that had happened in the early spring of 2013 was about 14 fold; the roe deer density decreased from 398 to 29 inds per 100 square km.

It is interesting question of which scavenger species consume carcasses of attenuate wild ungulates. Since the late 1990s we gradually collected materials on the question in two large forest massifs in Belarus (Naliboki Forest and Paazierre Forest), and the data suggest that there are two main consumers of carrion from such wild ungulate carcasses. They are wild boars (approximately up to 80%, on average 30-40% of biomass consumed) and ravens (approximately up to 70%, on average 20-30%). Among other important consumers there are raccoon dog, red fox and white-tailed eagle. They altogether consume about 30-35% of such carcasses of wild ungulates. Wolves usually do not touch carcasses of attenuate wild ungulates or consume 5-10% of them. However, sometimes wolves act as the main consumers of them, but normally wolf packs prefer to kill ungulates themselves and consume own kills. Mainly lonely persisting or(and) weakened wolves may search for carrion. In winter conditions golden eagles like to feed on wild ungulate carcasses, but they are rare in Belarus and their consumption rate is negligible compared to ones of other mentioned scavengers. Lynxes do not take carrion usually with exception of mother lynx with kittens in an exceptionally harsh winter situations. Sometimes stray dogs were registered as a significant consumer of carcasses of attenuate ungulates.