Wolf capture and collaring on the National Elk Refuge

National Elk Refuge employee Lori Iverson takes notes on a sedated wolf from the Pinnacle Peak Pack as former refuge manager Steve Kallin equips the animal with a tracking collar in 2013. The same wolf pack recently killed an escaped donkey, and wounded another, on the National Elk Refuge. 

Sometime during the middle of last week a couple of donkeys escaped from their fenced Kelly enclosure and were roaming the adjacent National Elk Refuge when they encountered a wolf pack undoubtably more accustomed to seeing elk.

The Pinnacle Peak Pack’s instincts kicked in, and the unplanned rendezvous didn’t end well for the donkeys. After receiving a report, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore biologist Mike Boyce and his technician, Becca Lyon, investigated the scene where the domesticated equids and wild canines clashed, Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said.

“What he saw looking at the bite marks is it looked like a typical attack by wolves,” Gocke said.

One of the donkeys was killed. The other was recovered by its owner but was injured with bite wounds on its rear end characteristic of wolves trying to hamstring large prey.

The owner of the donkeys, Kelly resident Melanie Harrice, declined to comment.

“I won’t allow myself to comment on this story,” she said.

National Elk Refuge biologist Eric Cole also declined to comment. In his view the incident was insignificant relative to other issues facing the refuge.

Harrice’s stable is located on a property south of the Gros Ventre River and borders the refuge, so the grassy 24,700-acre federal property would have been a natural place for the donkeys to go graze.

Because the escaped donkeys’ location was within the federal wildlife preserve where the Pinnacle Peak Pack dens and hunts, wildlife managers perceived the attack as a natural act of predation, albeit involving unlikely prey. Given the donkey’s location, Game and Fish doesn’t plan to take any action against the wolves, Gocke said.

“[Boyce] wasn’t that surprised that the wolves killed the donkey,” Gocke said, “and in his eyes it didn’t warrant trying to take some action.”

The timing of the encounter remains unclear, but the donkeys apparently went missing July 9. The carcass was discovered Wednesday night. By that time it had been fed on “quite a bit,” Gocke said. Game and Fish opted to leave the domestic animal’s remains out on the refuge, and employees hauled what was left farther from private land to minimize the chance of a conflict.

The Pinnacle Peak Pack has a knack for making headlines. Since forming in 2009 it has been one of Jackson Hole’s most reliably visible wolf packs owing to its winter habitat on the wide-open elk refuge. But that same home range, which treads into private Spring Gulch property on the west, has also led to chronic livestock depredation.

In each of the past three summers the Pinnacle Peak wolves have gotten into Spring Gulch or Gros Ventre ranchers’ cattle, and each of those years at least three pack members have been killed in an attempt to break the habit. The score for last year, according to an annual Wyoming wolf report, was seven head of cattle confirmed depredated, and three Pinnacle Peak lobos killed in response.

One domestic animal that’s not typically listed among “confirmed losses” in the Game and Fish monitoring reports the past few years is the donkey. Horses do appear about every other year.

At least one person who runs in Jackson Hole ranching circles seemed surprised that the brush between the wolves and donkeys turned out the way it did. Upon hearing the news, Triangle X dude rancher John Turner reacted with a “Good lord!”

“If the wolves get into pens with our mules, the mules put the run on them,” Turner said. “Mules are very aggressive.”

Although they share half their genes, donkeys are notoriously more even-tempered than mules.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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