Junction Butte Pack

The Junction Butte Pack in Yellowstone National Park is shown.

Two wolf pups were hit and killed by a vehicle on the road in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park last month.

In a news release Wednesday, park officials said the black male and female pups were hit between Tower Junction and the Northeast Entrance around sunset on Nov. 19.

The pups were part of the Junction Butte Pack, which roams the area between Tower Junction and the Lamar Valley. It’s one of the most frequently seen packs in the park.

Park officials couldn’t say what kind of vehicle hit the wolves because the incident is under investigation. But they could say the two pups weren’t afraid of people or roads, and that the park’s efforts to make them more wary of those hazards didn’t work.

Doug Smith, the park’s senior wolf biologist, said the pups were born this spring. They were part of a group of about 10 pups from a den near the Slough Creek Trail, an easy and busy route in the northern part of the park. Once they moved from the underground den to an above ground “rendezvous” site, they were within a few hundred yards of the trail.

From a young age, the pups showed curiosity for the people on the trail.

“The adults pretty much know what people are about and they stay away from the trail. The pups are unsupervisable and curious,” Smith said.

Smith said he received several reports of the pups running along the trail. Park officials closed the area to off-trail travel — an order some people broke to approach the pups. Some people even took photos with the animals — offering evidence they violated the park’s requirement that people stay 100 yards from wolves.

“We for sure have seen pictures online of people very close to them,” Smith said.

Come fall, the pups ended up down by the road leading to the northeast entrance, where they encountered more people.

In one instance, Smith said, a pup grabbed a tripod and ran off with it. The tripod’s owner chased the pup and was ticketed.

Smith said they tried to haze the pups by shooting invisible paintball rounds or cracker shells — which explode without hitting the animal. Those methods have worked in the past but were unsuccessful in this case.

He added that he can’t draw a direct link between their death and interactions with people, but that the evidence adds up.

“Between their upbringing and their behavior on the road, I think that all kind of connects,” he said.

The pups were about seven months old when they were hit. Smith estimated they weighed about 60 pounds.

Eight others from the same group are still alive, Smith said. His staff collared two of the pups, giving them a chance to track their movements. He added that the park is concerned about how the pups will act as they get older, since they’re used to being around people.

“When little wolf pups are around people, as those wolves mature, it can lead to really bad things,” Smith said.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.