Spitfire, a beloved wolf that resided in Yellowstone National Park and was a popular subject for photographers and wolf watchers visiting the park, was shot dead by a Montana trophy hunter last week, sparking outrage among animals lovers and conservationists.
The female wolf, also known as 926F, was killed by a hunter legally, according to the New York Times. Spitfire, often considered the “Queen of Wolves,” and a member of the Lamar Canyon pack in the national park’s northeast region, was shot after wandering outside the national park last weekend.
The New York Times reports that “the shooting occurred near cabins and was within hunting laws; Montana has permitted hunting of wolves since 2011, and a few hundred are killed each year.”
“A game warden checked with the hunter and everything about this harvest was legal,” Abby Nelson, a wolf management specialist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told the New York Times.
According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the wolf had been the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack until recently ceding the role to her daughter. “The wolf’s equally famous mother, known as ’06’ for the year she was born, was also killed in a legal hunt,” the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports. Spitfire’s mother, famed alpha female 832F, inspired the book “American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.”
“Everybody’s mourning, everybody’s thinking about what to do to stop this madness,” Karol Miller, founder of a Facebook group named The 06 Legacy, told the New York Times. “People love the Lamar Canyon Pack and people know 06 from her New York Times obituary. These are the descendants of 06, her legacy. People love those wolves.”
According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Spitfire was a small wolf, about 80 pounds, and was a great-great-great-grandaughter of wolf “No. 9,” part of the first batch of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone from Alberta, Canada, 23 years ago. She also had family ties to the Druid Pack, whose visibility in the Lamar Valley fueled the wolf-watching sensation, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports.
The Wolf Conservation Center, a New York-based nonprofit organization, said that wolves have become a significant tourist attraction for the areas around Yellowstone since the animals were first reintroduced to the park in the 1990’s. The Wolf Conservation Center questioned the economics of wolf hunting in a recent blog post, writing: “University of Montana researchers found that wolves bring an estimated $35M in annual tourist revenue to the region. Trophy hunting of wolves brings in money too. Montana wolf hunting licenses [only] cost $19 for residents and $50 for nonresidents.”
The post continued: “Perhaps Montana should take a closer look at the economics of wolf hunting. Seems that Yellowstone wolves are worth a lot more alive than dead.”
Despite the fact that Spitfire was killed legally, many conservationists are calling for local hunting laws to be examined in Montana, and demands for a hunting-free buffer zone to be established around the park.
The Facebook group “The 06 Legacy” posted about Spitfire’s death last week, calling the she-wolf “our fallen Queen.”
“926F was the courageous daughter of 06 who kept the Lamar Canyon lineage going after her mother was shot nearly six years ago in front of her and the pack suffered utter destruction,” Facebook post says. “She faced so many challenges head-on and she was a survivor through everything. The only thing she couldn’t overcome was a bullet.”
Comments flooded the post, with hundreds of outraged animal lovers and devastated fans of Spitfire expressing shock and sadness that she died at the hands of a trophy hunter.
Jane Newsome wrote: “My favorite girl, my heart! RIP, run wild and free! You will never be forgotten and you spirit will live in Lamar Valley forever!” while another heartbroken fan wrote “Terribly sad news. Such a beautiful girl. I will never understand how anyone could kill an animal for sport!”
One user demanded Spitfire’s body be returned to Yellowstone, despite the fact that she was legally hunted as a trophy kill.
“I am very angry and so sad for her pack… I think that the body of 926F mut [sic] be returned in the YNP, in her pack’s home area. Even if it’s a ‘trophy hunting’ the hunter [should not get] a trophy of a Yellowstone wolf. RIP 926F.”
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have all established wolf hunting seasons to help control their numbers and reduce over-populated areas. Although many angry conservationists are demanding buffer zones, Montana law forbids making buffer zones around Yellowstone to prevent wolves that stray just outside the park from being hunted, according to the Times.