A rare white wolf was shot and fatally wounded at Yellowstone National Park between April 10 and April 11. Although hikers found the wolf alive, representatives with the National Park Service confirmed she was ultimately euthanized due to the severity of her wounds.
As stated in a May 11 news release, authorities believe the rare white wolf was shot with a rifle in the northern portion of the park near Gardiner, Montana. A necropsy, which was performed by the Ashland, Oregon, United States Fish & Wildlife Service Laboratory, confirmed the wolf suffered at least one fatal gunshot wound.
The female wolf was one of three known white wolves living within Yellowstone National Park. According to the National Park Service, she was 12-years-old and had been an alpha female for at least nine years. Officials confirmed the white wolf gave birth to an estimated 20 pups over the last nine years. At least 14 of those pups survived beyond one year of age.
Yellowstone officials said the white wolf was well-known to park guests for her unusual snowy coat. She was also unique because she had survived beyond the age of five — which is the life expectancy of wolves living within the national park.
Although at least two of their surviving wolves are white, the wolves living in the Yellowstone National Park are gray and timber wolves.
A majority of Yellowstone’s wolves, which generally die of natural causes, do not live beyond the age of five. According to the National Park Service, the oldest known wolf living within the park is currently 12.5 years old. The wolf, who is simply identified as “478F,” is part of the Cougar Creek pack.
In sharp contrast, wolves living outside the national park have a life expectancy of only two to three years and are most often killed by “human causes” — which include illegal hunting and vehicle collisions.
Yellowstone’s wolves are generally monogamous and live in packs of nine to 10 animals. However, some packs may have more than 30 wolves and can include more than one mating pair. Yellowstone’s largest recorded pack, which was called the Druid Pack, had at least 37 wolves.
Prior to 1995, wolves were largely extinct in the Greater Yellowstone region. Officials believe their numbers had waned largely due to a lack of prey. However, disease, hunting, natural predators, and severe weather patterns were also a factor.
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Although diseases, including canine distemper and mange, remain a concern, the number of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone region has increased substantially over the last 20 years.
At this time, the region’s population is considered to be “restored” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2013, officials estimated more than 1,500 wolves were living in the Greater Yellowstone region, including an estimated 71 breeding pairs.
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The wolf population within Yellowstone National Park did increase considerably between 1995 and 2007. Unfortunately, the number of wolves inside the park has declined over the last decade.
In 2007, there were an estimated 171 wolves living in the national park. By 2013, there were fewer than 100. Officials believe the decline is directly related to the declining elk population — which is essential prey for the wolves. They also noted some of the wolves have suffered from canine distemper and sarcoptic mange.
In an attempt to compile data about their wolf population, Yellowstone officials place tracking devices on approximately 20 percent of the animals each year.
Although the gray wolf is no longer listed as an endangered species in Montana, it is illegal to shoot them within the national park. Therefore, Yellowstone officials are currently offering a $10,000 reward for information about the person or persons who fatally wounded the rare white wolf.
[Featured Image by Jef Wodniack/Shutterstock]