One of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular wolves has been shot dead by a trophy hunter. Spitfire, a 7-year-old female wolf, known to scientists as Lamar Canyon Wolf Pack member 926F, was killed legally a few miles outside a park entrance in Montana, according to a Facebook post from animal rights group Wolves of the Rockies.
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Her mother, famous alpha female 832F, was also killed by a hunter in 2012 and Spitfire was credited with keeping the pack together after her death. Both animals were stars in an area described by Yellowstone officials as a “wolf-watching mecca”, which attracts animal lovers from all over the world. It is currently hunting season for wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the states that Yellowstone covers.
The predators were reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995 but remain at the centre of a debate in the US between conservationists who argue that the US wolf population needs protection, and hunters and farmers who argue that rising predator numbers are out of control.
The beloved wolf’s death has reignited calls for a buffer around Yellowstone, a hunting-free zone, to protect animals who wander beyond the park’s invisible boundary.
“Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting,” the New York-based Wolf Conservation Center wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”
Wolf hunting licenses in Montana cost just $19 for residents and $50 for others, according to the Wolf Conservation Centre.