The wolves who slaughtered 19 elk in Wyoming last week did not conduct a “sport killing” but a “surplus killing.” Unfortunately, since humans handled all of the wolves’ surplus food, the animals are left with a new label, shame, and quite likely nothing to eat during the winter — all courtesy of the federal government.
“Wolves slaughter 19 elk in ‘sport killing’,” reads CNN’s March 26 headline. While CNN quotes Wyoming Game and Fish Department Regional Wildlife Supervisor John Lund as having said that “it appears to be sport killing,” Lund actually uses the term “surplus killing” in his full account of what happened:
“Yesterday morning, we discovered several elk killed by wolves near one of our feedgrounds near Bondurant. We went and investigated it and it turned out to be a total of 19 that we found and documented. There were 19 total — 17 were calves, two were adult cows,” he said on Saturday.
“This is a rare event. A lot of people call it surplus killing. It has been observed on other occasions, just not very often. This was one of those events. Several wolves came in over one night and killed 19 elk. Normally one or two elk a night here and there is no big deal, but 19 in one night is fairly rare.”
Supervisor Lund added that the wolves that killed the elk appears to be a pack known as the Rim Pack. “I think there are nine wolves in that pack.”
Like Supervisor Lund, Mike Jimenez, the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, does not use the term “sport killing” but “surplus killing.” As he said, “by and large, wolves don’t kill for sport. We did an eight year study and we looked at elk feedgrounds. What we found is that generally wolves did not kill what they did not eat.”
Surplus killing means that wolves might kill more than what they can eat for now, but they will come back later to have food to survive. Surplus killing occurs often during the winter when frigid temperatures can preserve the killed prey for later consumption.
Unfortunately, the wolves’ surplus killing at the feedground near Bondurant, Wyoming, has left the wolves with the label of “sport killing” but no food that they would want since their prey was handled by humans.
According to Jimenez, the elk carcasses were moved from the hay field on the feedground where they were killed, but are still at the feedground. When the wolves return to eat more of the dead elk, they might not eat them since the elk have been handled by humans.
Wolves are an endangered species in Wyoming, but they are today federally managed. While the wolves were still under the protection of the state rather than the federal government, nothing like this ever occurred, said Ken Mills, a Game and Fish’s large-carnivore biologist, who had helped manage the wolves from September 2012 to September 2014 while the state still had control.
The 19 elk that were slaughtered by the wolves were discovered by a contractor who was delivering hay to the elk herd’s feeding location which is supported by federal wildlife officials. Ken Mills commented that the unheard-of killing by the wolves might occur “when some other factor specifically increases the vulnerability of their prey. That could be snow, that could be disease, that could be habitat structure, for example.”