One of Yellowstone’s most famous wolves, known as 926F, was killed by a trophy hunter just outside of the park last week, the New York Times reports. The black she-wolf, known as Spitfire by wolf lovers, was the leader of the Lamar Canyon pack and the daughter of the famous subject of the book, American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.
Wolves are protected within the boundaries of Yellowstone Park, but if they cross the line that separates the park from the rest of the landscape, they are fair game for trophy hunters. Spitfire was killed legally by one such hunter just a few miles outside the west entrance of the park in Montana. Prior to 2011, wolves were protected as an endangered species, but in April of that year, Congress removed the animal from the endangered species list. Since then, both Montana and Idaho have had open season on wolves for several years, with Wyoming opening up to hunting just this year.
“Once wolves step outside park boundaries they have zero protection,” said the director of Predator Defense Brooks Fahy, according to the Dodo. “This tragedy should be one more wake-up call.”
Spitfire’s mother was sometimes called “the most famous wolf in the world.” The white alpha she-wolf was known as 832F and led the pack of the famous Lamar Canyon wolves. She was also killed by a hunter. After her death, the Lamar Canyon wolves struggled to survive. Wolf packs can be irrevocably damaged when an alpha is killed, often resulting in the pack disbanding and many members leaving to find new packs or to die.
After 832F, known affectionately to wolf watchers as 06 Female, was killed in 2012, the Lamar Canyon pack faced numerous conflicts, resulting in the death of several pack members over the years, but Spitfire held the struggling pack together.
“Everybody’s mourning, everybody’s thinking about what to do to stop this madness,” said Karol Miller, who founded a group dedicated to Lamar Canyon wolf lovers. “People love the Lamar Canyon Pack and people know 06 from her New York Times obituary. These are the descendants of 06, her legacy. People love those wolves.”
The death was announced via the Wolves of the Rockies Facebook page on Wednesday.
A few weeks prior, her mate and beta male pack member was killed by hunters in Wyoming during the state’s inaugural open season on the apex species. Both wolves were collared, and of the 10 wolves who wore GPS trackers, five have been killed so far, leading to speculation that hunters are targeting collared wolves. Commentors on some hunting websites have admitted as much.
Many people are calling for a “buffer zone” around the park in the wake of Spitfire’s death.
“Until we get rid of the hatred toward wolves, it’s going to be a constant battle,” former Montana lawmaker Dan Vermillion said. “I look forward to the day people look at wolves not as the enemy, but see them as part of the landscape.