The wolf that people traveled thousands of miles to see was illegally killed.
When hikers trekking through the northern area of Yellowstone National Park came across a luminous white body during their travels in April, their hearts sank as they quickly realized it was the very wolf that countless people come to the park to see every year. The wolf, lovingly referred to as the White Lady because of her characteristic coat, was an alpha female in a pack that resides in the park.
The White Lady is suspected to have been killed sometime between April 10 and 11, and details of her death following her necropsy, as well as a monetary reward offer, were not announced until a full month later. The initial reward was $5,000, but it has since been raised to $30,000 as more animal groups pledge thousands to give to anyone with information leading to the capture of the person who illegally and inhumanely shot her.
This iconic wolf was seen by many visitors, and the value of wolf watching in the U.S. has been estimated at $35 million annually as tourists trek to popular wolf sites to catch a glimpse of the majestic creatures. The fact that the White Lady was an alpha female means that her pack will be severely affected, which will extend into the ecosystem of the entire park.
“The killing of this beloved alpha female will reverberate across the ecosystem,” Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, told The Dodo. “Her pups died with her just days before they would have been born, undermining the future of her pack; her pack’s structure is upended just like when the matriarch in a human family dies, people lose the chance to see a rare white wolf in one of America’s most gorgeous landscapes, and we learn that even our most protected wild places aren’t necessarily safe for rare wildlife.”
Cotton, who was in the park when the investigation into the wolf’s death was underway, informed The Dodo that the White Lady was a few days away from giving birth to 5 pups, which would have joined the pack and become a valuable member of that pack and whichever ones the males branched off into. In addition to the unborn pups, the White Lady left behind the mate that she had for 9 years as well as 14 of the 20 children she gave birth to that survived into adulthood.
When the White Lady was discovered by hikers in mid-April, they quickly called for help and park staff responded immediately. Though the wolf was still alive at the time of her discovery, staff determined that her condition was beyond hope and they euthanized her to end all suffering. The park sent her remains to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory to conduct a necropsy, which found that she had indeed been shot illegally.
Though wolves in Yellowstone National Park are protected, many areas within one hundred miles allow for wolves to be killed by hunters. Despite the fact that their population is dwindling, it became legal to kill wolves on-sight in Wyoming, which joined Montana and Idaho in targeting wolves. The decision came after a court chose to delist wolves as an endangered species, and thousands have been killed since 2011, when Montana and Idaho first delisted wolves.
Wolves are largely hated by residents of these three states because hunters blame them for taking away game they would have hunted and because of livestock predation. Since the states rely so much on livestock, the fatalities caused by wolves drive owners to kill the wolves to protect their live property, a technique that has been proven to be ineffective and cause more wolves to appear in the area.
“This tragedy is another sad reminder of the unfounded and illogical hatred of wolves,” Cotton said. “It shows why ensuring that our public lands network remains a refuge for rare animals like wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and wolverine is essential for ensuring their recovery. We call on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find and hold accountable the person responsible for this crime.”
No new information has surfaced about the White Lady’s killer, but Yellowstone officials still hope that they will be brought to justice so that other hunters can heed the warning.
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