She was the best-known wolf in the world – one of Yellowstone’s top tourist attractions. Wildlife watchers called her as a “rock star.” She was the alpha female of the park’s Lamar Canyon pack. And last week she was shot dead.
Known as 832F (also, earlier, 06F), she had teamed up with two brothers from another family to start building her own pack. She was strong, highly intelligent, and fearless in protecting her family and territory.
Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995, and were protected, as an endangered species, in the areas beyond the park until a few months ago.
But the only protection 832F knew anything about was protecting her own family. No one had explained to her that when you step over some invisible man-made boundary, you’re no longer in Yellowstone. And while she’d faced down bears, bison and other wolf packs, she didn’t know how to face down the high-powered rifle of a hunter standing on the other side of the invisible line.
Meg Sommers, writer and photographer with with the Yellowstone Gate park newsletter, captured this shot of the Lamar Canyon pack a few weeks ago.
Scientists had been tracking her for several years after she’d been fitted with a radio collar. And she is now the eighth wolf wearing a collar to have been killed since the hunting ban was lifted.
Like other top predators, wolves play a critical role in the ecosystem. Since the time they were brought back to Yellowstone, wolves have helped undo the damage to the valleys that was being caused by, among others, the growing numbers of elk. Now the elk have been pushed further up the mountains, which is where they should be. And in the valleys, along the banks of the creeks and rivers, the willows, cottonwoods and aspens are growing back now that their saplings aren’t all being gobbled down.
Thanks to the wolves, the beavers are back, too, building their dams, which are good for the fish, and creating new meadows, which are good for the songbirds. Ravens, bears and other scavengers are doing well because there are more carcasses. And the bison are healthier since the wolves are rarely a match for strong adult bison.
Outside the park, though, there are three invasive species: cattle and sheep and the humans who profit from them. The wolves don’t know anything about human economics and politics, but they do know a good meal when they see one. So the ranchers had been pushing to get the wolves off the endangered species list so the hunters can go after them. And this year, they won.
And so it was that 832F, having survived and triumphed over every natural adversity that nature could put in her way, finally met her match last week. She and her pack had ventured briefly out of their home area in Yellowstone National Park, and into the range of the waiting hunters, who gather just outside of Yellowstone in the surrounding areas of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
“832F is the most famous wolf in the world,” said Jimmy Jones, a wildlife photographer when he took this portrait of her for the current issue of the magazine American Scientist:
And now she is gone.