RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The most popular wolf in Yellowstone National Park was shot by a hunter last week. She was taking a rare jaunt outside park boundaries. Wolves were only taken off the endangered species list in Wyoming only a few months ago. And this is the first season it's been legal to hunt wolves in all three states bordering Yellowstone.
NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports the wolf's death is a big blow to scientists and many wildlife enthusiasts, who've loved following her story.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Millions of people go to Yellowstone every year to see wildlife. But few creatures stand out as individuals. Biologist Douglas Smith says that the animal known as 832F was different.
DOUGLAS SMITH: She was very recognizable and she was unique and everybody knew her.
SHOGREN: She had a beautiful gray coat and was the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. Smith has followed this wolf for years but only got to put a tracking collar on her in February.
SMITH: I know I tried to catch her for several years prior to doing it and she was so smart we couldn't. We do it with a helicopter, we'd dart them. We'd fly in on them. And she'd use the landscape to her advantage. I mean, I watched her. And every other wolf is running. She watching, figuring out the next move to get away from us.
SHOGREN: Smith says that's an extraordinary wolf.
SMITH: You know, people saw her doing that kind of thing in, you know, daily life and it really attracted them. You know, people in this world today crave something real and our society is lacking that. And they could come to Yellowstone and see real nature unfolding in front of their eyes, with this very unique personality of a wolf and they loved her. They thought it was great.
SHOGREN: Gray wolves were hunted and trapped to the point that there weren't any in the Western U.S. by the 1930s. Smith helped to bring wolves back to the park in the mid-1990s and has studied them ever since. He says that closely watching wolves, like 832, has taught biologists that they were wrong about the basic way wolf packs function.
Alpha females, like 832, lead the packs - not the alpha males as biologists long thought.
SMITH: She was clearly in charge. And actually, typically males are better hunters than females - that was not true in this case. She was a great hunter. In fact, brought down elk by herself single handedly.
SHOGREN: Eight thirty-two is one of at least seven wolves from Yellowstone who have been killed in legal hunts this year. Hundreds more out of the about 1800 in the Northern Rockies have also been killed.
Suzanne Stone, a wolf expert from the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, says the hunting is too aggressive.
SUZANNE STONE: This is not a legacy that anyone would want to have. I mean, this was one of the most successful wildlife reintroductions programs anywhere in the world, and it's being put in jeopardy now.
SHOGREN: Randy Newberg hunts wolves and makes hunting television programs. He says tourists love wolves but many people who live around them don't like them, and hate that the federal government forced wolves on them. He thinks wolf hunts are easing the animosity many local people feel towards the predator.
RANDY NEWBERG: Having these hunting seasons has provided a level of tolerance again.
SHOGREN: Biologist Douglas Smith says as much as he hates to lose a wolf as valuable as 832, he agrees.
SMITH: So to get support for wolves you can't have people angry about them all the time. And so, hunting is going to be part of the future of wolves in the West. We've got to have it if we're going to have wolves.
SHOGREN: Smith hopes that the amazing stories about 832 and the other favorite wolves of Yellowstone will also help people accept wolves.
Elizabeth Shogren. NPR News.