A pack of nine wolves has killed 19 elk in what is being described as a “sport killing" near Bondurant, Wyoming, officials have said.
John Lund of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department expressed concern over the killings, because wolves usually eat what they kill but this time left the dead elk alone. He told CNN: “It appears to be a sport killing.”
Although many species engage in surplus killing – killing without the intention to eat – it is rare amongst wolves, and this particular attack was especially brutal.
Mr Lund told USA Today: “Something triggered and they went crazy and just took down each elk and moved onto the next”.
The elk will be tested for disease, as vulnerability such as illness could have been what prompted the wolves to kill so many at a time.
Wolves are hard-wired to detect signs of weakness in their prey before attacking – they will rarely risk injury or waste energy on a chase – and so coming across herd of diseased and vulnerable elk could have triggered the wolves to kill the herd, even if they did not need or want all of them for food.
Seven per cent of the elk population in the area has been lost to wolves this winter, a cause for “significant concern” for wildlife officials.
There is little that can be done to protect the elk population because wolves are on the endangered species list having been at risk of extinction in the 1970s. This means that they cannot be hunted, even by state officials.
Wyoming tried to get the wolves removed from the list in 2012, but was not successful.
Officials noted that the wolves have not been attacking humans, and that the concern is over big game only.