Soda Springs Wolf Meets Its End

Where did it come from?

Wolf teamed with sheep guard dog gone over to the other side.


Wildlife Services has finally trapped and killed what appears to have been a wild wolf that had killed at least 25 sheep over the last year-and-a-half. The dead wolf had occupied a new location for Idaho wolves -- about 10 miles northeast of the southeast Idaho town of Soda Springs. The complete story is much more interesting, however,  than the typical wolf-kills-sheep/wolf-is-controlled story.

Until this September, the wolf was thought to have left the area, but instead it was trapped and killed in late November 2000 after it resumed killing sheep this September. The animal was an 87-pound dark gray female. She appears to have been a wild wolf, but DNA tests are being conducted. Her most likely origin is from the Yellowstone area wolf population, but this is by no means certain. She could have been a privately released wolf or a wolf that escaped from the 1995 Ligertown debacle near Lava Hot Springs, which is not far from Soda Springs, Idaho. 

The story is especially unusual in that she spent part of 1999 - 2000 hunting sheep, and wild animals with a Great Pyrenees sheep guard dog that had begun killing and eating sheep rather than guarding them. 

In late 1999, there were several news reports of the two animals killing sheep together, but early in 2000 the wolf disappeared, and it was believed to have migrated on or died. The dog wintered over on wild animals, but when the the sheep returned to the summer range the dog began to kill them. On June 26, 2000 the dog was shot after being seen among a flock of sheep and showing up soon afterward, its muzzle covered with blood. After the dog was killed, examination of its stomach contents showed it full of lamb. The dog wore a collar. It belonged to the owner of the sheep, and had gone feral!

After dispatching the dog, sheep depredation in the area ceased until September when wolf kills were identified. Three months later the wolf was trapped by Wildlife Services near a livestock kill. There was positive identification that it was the same wolf as the previous winter because an archery hunter made a good video of the wolf during the 1999 hunt. The trapped wolf was identical to the one in the video. The wolf was also known to have a limp. Examination of her carcass showed she had lost several toes, probably from an encounter with trap a year or more earlier. After reporting on wolf recovery for 5 years, I have concluded that injured wolves in livestock areas are more likely to attack livestock than healthy wolves.

But, once again, was she really a Yellowstone wolf?  Her most obvious alternative origin was Ligertown, a ramshackle compound of wolves, wolf hybrids, African lions, and lion-tiger hybrids located on Fish Creek near Lava Hot Springs. In September 1995, some of the animals attacked the owners, Dotti Martin and Robert Fieber, and many escaped their squalid cages to be soon trapped or shot by the Bannock County Sheriff Office and Idaho Fish and Game Officers in a 3-day long episode. A number of the animals were not killed. 24 African lions and 3 ligers were taken to the Wildlife Way Station in California. Some 40 "wolves" were also salvaged. The wolves were in fact a combination of what were clearly dogs, wolf hybrids and nearly pure wolves. 

The sordid compound was torn down in 1996 and is now a pleasant open spot. Officially all the animals were accounted for. 

Before the general animal escape, however, wolves had escaped and attacked turkeys and other animals on a nearby farm. Inspection of Ligertown showed there was an animal trail from the compound down to Fish Creek. Obviously some animals were regularly leaving the cages and perhaps even hunting the abundant deer herd to escape their starvation

Ligertown. Oct. 1995

In 1997, 2 years after the Ligertown incident, I received a report from two hunters that they had seen two black wolves near Lava Hot Springs, which is about 25 miles west of Soda Springs. Were these Yellowstone wolves, or Ligertown wolves? I think these facts raise a good possibility the Soda Springs wolf was a Ligertown escapee or the offspring of two of them.

As far as the dog - wolf relationship, it is not common, but it has been described a number of times. So far I have heard no one give an obvious explanation for this particular dog-wolf relationship, but a Ligertown wolf would have been raised with wolf hybrids and dogs.

Why did the sheep depredations begin and continue? Most of them were of a single livestock operator's sheep. One possibility is poisoning of his sheep by selenium on a reclaimed strip mine site. Shortly after the poisoning, in which 60 of his sheep died on Rasmussen Ridge of selenium poisoning, the depredations began. The sheep had been grazing on a reclaimed phosphate strip/open pit mine. At the time an Associated Press story told "For years, when mining companies reclaimed a phosphate pit, the middle layer of selenium-rich shale which normally was located below the topsoil, was placed atop the backfill because it was easier to regrow plants in that softer soil."

The dog and the wolf may have scavenged the mutton and become familiar with each other at the site of the poisoning. 

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