On a December day about 15 miles east of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a hunter fired a shot heard around the world—he legally killed a female wolf wearing a GPS research collar. It’s not known whether the hunter was hunting wolves or looking for other game and opportunistically shot her. It’s not known if he chose to shoot the wolf wearing the radio collar. Not much is known because the hunter has chosen not to reveal himself publicly (though he was given the opportunity to for this article). He is, in all likelihood, concerned about the reaction from wolf advocates, because the wolf he shot was the most famous wolf—perhaps the most famous single wild animal—on earth.
She was also one of the most beloved by the community of wolf-watchers that has emerged with the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995. When word of her death hit Facebook, Twitter, and wolf-watching blogs, people all over the world were devastated. The news was picked up by the New York Times (which ran three stories about the killing), ABC News, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Guardian in Britain, and London’s Daily Mail.
The wolf’s collar identified her as 832F, but she was better known to tens of thousands of people internationally as the “06 Female,” the unusually big, barrel-chested alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. She was not the first Yellowstone wolf killed during Wyoming’s inaugural open season on wolves (Montana and Idaho have already had two years of wolf-hunting). A few weeks earlier, her packmate, a beta male she sometimes bred with, was shot and killed in Wyoming as well.
But the killing of the ’06 Female set off a firestorm of controversy about the collision between wildlife management, science, and hunting that occurs at the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. Part of the issue was the collar she wore and what it represented. Yellowstone Wolf Project biologists had fitted the ’06 Female with a $4,000 GPS that recorded her exact location sometimes as often as every 30 minutes, providing fine-scale data points about her movements and invaluable information to the Wolf Project’s 17-year study. Her packmate that was shot, a male called 754M, had also worn a collar, though his was a simpler VHF radio telemetry model used by researchers to locate wolves and packs. In fact, four of the 11 wolves that wore collars on Yellowstone’s Northern Range were shot—legally—by hunters during the Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming wolf hunting seasons. And of the total 10 Yellowstone wolves killed outside the park, five wore research collars.
The high percentage of collared wolves harvested touched off a wave of speculation by conservationists and wolf advocates that hunters were, at a minimum, targeting wolves wearing collars. In fact, commenters on at least one pro-hunting website, Trapperman.com, admitted that they would go after collared wolves.
Laurie Lyman, one of the park’s most dedicated wolf-watchers—she retired as a schoolteacher in California to move to Silver Gate and volunteer with the Wolf Project—thinks there’s a sinister element to the deaths of some specific wolves.
“They’ve been waiting 17 years in Wyoming to kill wolves. They wanted to get those wolves because it hurts the people who watch them. They did it to stick it to us,” Lyman says. “I’ve been standing on the side of the road watching wolves and had people pull up and say to me, ‘Lady, you better take a picture of those wolves because they’re the last you’re ever going to see.’”
Lyman and Kirsty Peake—who, with her husband, purchased a home in the Gallatin Valley to spend months watching Yellowstone wolves far from their native England, where she lectures on wolf behavior—fear that making the ’06 Female famous may also have killed her.