A mystery predator responsible for 12 sheep deaths in Eastern Montana last month could be connected to the dozens of similar attacks in late 2005 and early 2006, which some officials blame on a domestic hybrid species of wolf.
Montana’s top wolf official said this week that two suspicious animals remain on the loose in and near Garfield County following the sheep deaths in late August. A third animal killed in a coyote snare earlier this month has yet to be positively identified as wild or domestic.
“It’s a young female, charcoal gray in color,” said Carolyn Sime, wolf coordinator for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “It looks like something we would see in the Northern Rockies, but I’ve also seen domestic wolves that look the same. It’s unclear what the origin is.”
The recent deaths revive last year’s furor in McCone and Garfield Counties over the 100-plus sheep slaughtered, and the subsequent hunt that ultimately left dead a domestic wolf, the product, officials believe, of manipulated breeding in captivity.
More than that, the frustration of stockmen, as Hal Herring wrote last year for NewWest.Net, was “not entirely directed at the creature itself (the stockmen here know full well how to handle that problem) but at the federal and state governments, at complex regulations imposed to protect an animal that they despise, and at a far-away society that seems to have lost all respect for them and their constant struggle to remain self-reliant, solvent, and on the land.” (Click here for the first installment of Hal’s March 2006 story, here for the second.)
Sime said the dead wolf does not match the description of either animal spotted by USDA wildlife service officials on August 22 as they searched for the predators from an airplane. One of those animals was brown, the other was gray. Both were spotted within two miles of the most recent sheep attacks near Jordan.
“The brown color is a flyer that something is not right,” said Sime. “The one last year was brown as well.”
Officials authorized the USDA to kill both of the spotted wolves, but ended up catching the third unidentified wolf species instead. Sime said it’s possible that one or both of the wolves that remain on the loose are domestic. “It’s unusual for wolves to disperse as groups,” she said. “It could be a combination of captive and wild animals.”
Sime said wolf sightings of the last month could be an extension of events from late 2005 and early 2006, but admitted that the agency remains somewhat baffled by the new case. There have been no sightings in vicinity of Jordan since Labor Day weekend.
And the mystery of the Creature of McCone County continues.