A world-famous wolf that had been seen by as many as a million visitors to Yellowstone National Park has been killed after she strayed outside the park's protected boundaries, the New York Times reports. She was shot on Dec. 6 in Wyoming, where wolf hunting recently became legal.

 

Known as 832F, the female alpha wolf was a member of the Lamar Canyon pack. She had been called "a rock star" and "the most famous wolf in the world."

 

Scientists who have been tracking the Lamar Canyon pack for years know that pack members rarely leave the confines of the park. 832F, like many wolves in the park, carried a $4,000 GPS radio collar that helps scientists understand the wolves' movements, habitat usage habits and hunting patterns. Over the past few months, eight wolves bearing radio collars have been killed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. 832F's radio collar has already been returned to park officials.

 

Wildlife photographer John Hayes has spent years observing 832F and other animals in Yellowstone. He described the pack leader in his blog: "Alpha Female 832F, despite her age, or maybe because of it, is a consummate professional at what she does — which is to protect and guide the Lamar Canyon Pack from one generation to the next in a land wild and unforgiving. Crafty and courageous, 832F has a dedicated cadre of enthusiasts who faithfully chronicle her every move, such as they can."

 

832F's death follows shortly after the shooting of another member of her pack, a male known as 754, who was killed in Wyoming in November. 754 also carried a radio collar. Douglas W. Smith, senior wildlife biologist for Yellowstone, told the Times last month that the wolf's death was a serious blow to the research into the wolves' conservation.

 

Until this year, gray wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act. Those protections were lifted in the northern Rockies after many years of lawsuits by conservation groups, who were trying to keep the animals on the endangered species list. Wyoming must maintain a population of 150 or more wolves; as long as the count remains above that number, hunting may continue. A new wave of lawsuits seeks to once again reverse this policy.

 

Hunters and ranchers have maintained that gray wolf populations are recovered in the northern Rockies and hunting must be allowed to protect livestock and other game animals such as elk, moose and bighorn sheep. Conservationists argue that the wolves, which were reintroduced to the region in 1995 at great government expense, are not recovered and the population levels are still too low to stay viable. They also argue that wolves do not understand the boundaries between Yellowstone and neighboring states and should not be penalized if they cross invisible borders.

 

Conservationists around the world are mourning the loss of 832F. "She was an amazing mother," Marc Cook, a member of the Wolves of the Rockies advocacy group, told the New York Times. "When I heard she died, I felt like I lost a family member."

 

This 30-second video from last winter shows 832F eating a mule deer she had just killed:

 

 

Related story on MNN: Wolf politics raise hackles in U.S. West