A tracker first saw her from the air, her lean black body slinking across the ground like a slender shadow. She had traveled some 200 miles from her home in the Cody area. She was in search of a mate or a pack.
On Friday, June 12, the wolf that had killed at least seven sheep in the Kaycee area over the past month was taken down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Gray Wolf Recovery Program team out of Montana, with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.
“The wolf was taken out by a shot on the ground,” said Mike Jimenez, the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf coordinator for FWS who led the team.
The federal agencies were called in mid-May after four dead sheep were found on a ranch in Kaycee in a scene that had the characteristics of a wolf kill. One rancher compared the way a wolf kills sheep to a freight train impact, with the wolf leaving the half-eaten carcasses bruised and battered.
On June 8, another three ewes were killed, along with some lambs on a different ranch.
Jimenez and his team picked up the frequency on the wolf’s radio collar, which had been put on her by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, presumably in 2012 or 2013, when the grey wolf was removed from the endangered species list and Wyoming had brief control over wolf management.
Altough the federal team had the frequency and had spotted the wolf, they needed to wait to see whether this particular wolf was traveling alone, Jimenez said.
A few years ago, when a wolf was spotted prowling in the Bighorn Mountains, she had a small pack with her that took out more than 100 head of livestock before her pack was killed, Jimenez said.
“Every time wolves have gotten into the Bighorns, it’s been a problem,” Jimenez said. “We do not want wolves in the Bighorns.”
So the delay this time increased the pressure on the ranching community, and stories of the wolf ran like wildfire, he said.
Still the recovery team waited.
A lone wolf is a simpler problem than one who runs with a pack, but Jimenez said as long as this female had the collar, the team didn’t want to take her out prematurely and diminish their chance of catching any uncollared wolves she may be traveling with.
Jimenez said they were also watching for what he called a “rendezvous” location. Was she returning to one location because she had pups to come back and feed?
A month after her first identified kill, the wolf was deemed to be traveling alone, and the team tracked her from the air, then went in on foot and killed her.
Wolves in Wyoming are an issue that needs barely a spark to create a fire of publicity and tensions. Because the wolf is an endangered species, ranchers can’t do much to protect their flocks when wolves come calling. And wolves will wander from the western part of the state, where they roam Yellowstone Park.
“Wolves will always try to go places,” Jimenez said. “Unfortunately, (the Bighorns) is not a great place for them.”
Wolf packs have a dominant hierarchy, Jimenez said, with only one breeding pair. Grey wolves in the Northern Rockies will leave their pack to breed in adolescence, at about 2 years old.
“They can go some impressive distances if they don’t find a pack,” Jimenez said.
On average, they travel 60 to 70 miles.
Ranchers are allowed to kill a grey wolf if they catch it in the act of harming their sheep. But because the latest attacks happened on large ranches and at night, the reality, ranchers say, is that they can’t protect their flocks from one more dangerous predator.
The Kaycee wolf is one example of how quickly a wolf that threatens livestock can be taken out — in this case, about 31 days.