Back with a bang

  Humans have killed five of the wolves restored to Yellowstone National Park last year, and a wolf pregnant with six pups died when she fell into a thermal pool; but biologists say at least 30 more pups are on the way.

Mike Phillips, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Recovery Team, is so impressed with the reproductive capacity of the wolves that he is considering suspending the reintroduction program for next year. After only two years of transplanting gray wolves from Canada, Phillips says there may already be enough animals in the park to re-establish the species in the ecosystem.

Last spring, 14 wolves were released and two packs gave birth to a total of nine pups. Of those animals, three adults and one pup were killed. Last summer a Red Lodge man was convicted of illegally shooting one of the adults, authorities killed another after it attacked livestock outside the park, and an unknown person shot a third adult in February near Daniel, Wyo. Authorities have no leads to date on that killing. And at the end of March, ranch hands near Meeteetse, Wyo., shot another adult they mistook for a coyote. One pup was accidentally killed by a delivery truck on a park road.

The last of the 17 wolves that had been transported from Canada last winter were released from their holding pens the second week of April. Biologists say several females are pregnant. Overall, they expect the 35 wolves now in the park to produce five new litters of five to seven pups each. If all goes well, the Yellowstone wolf population could swell to about 75 animals.

* Mark Matthews

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