| Yellowstone's popular alpha female wolf shot dead by hunters outside park|
|A wolf beloved by visitors and tracked by scientists at Yellowstone national park has been shot dead by hunters, reigniting debate over the targeting of the animal.|
The alpha female, known as 832F and described by wildlife enthusiasts as a "rock star" due to her popularity, was found dead on Thursday outside the park's boundary in Wyoming, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Over the last few weeks, eight wolves that had been fitted with $4,000 GPS collars to help researchers track their movement have been killed. It has led to complaint by animal rights groups and calls for fresh limits to be put in place ahead of the inaugural wolf trapping season, due to come in on 15 December.
Naturalists at Yellowstone are said to be dismayed that so many of the wolves they are tracking have been shot dead by hunters. The animals are tagged in an effort to study their habits and population spread.
According to the New York Times, researchers at the park found 832F's death especially distressing. The female wolf was one of Yellowstone's most popular inhabitants with tourists.
"She is the most famous wolf in the world," wildlife photographer Jimmy Jones told the newspaper. His picture of the animal appears in the current issue of American Scientist.
Gray wolves were taken off the endangered species list last year, after seeing population figures rebound since the mid-1990s, following their reintroduction to the Rockies.
At the end of 2011, there were at least 98 wolves in 10 packs – plus two loners – in Yellowstone, according to the park's annual wolf project report. The park stretches across Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Hunting, which is legally sanctioned in the northern Rockies, has been defended as a legitimate way to reduce predators to livestock. But anti-hunt campaigners say population numbers are not large enough to support the practice and that the animals bring in tourists to the region.
The eight collared wolves killed were all shot outside of the park's perimeter. Data from 832F's collar suggests the wolf rarely ventured beyond the park and then only for brief periods.
Alongside hunting, concern is also turning to the effect of wolf trapping in the coming season. Shane Colton, commissioner of the Montana fish, wildlife and parks department, said closing some areas to trapping or setting strict quotas will be on the table during a meeting Monday.
"We don't want to close any area off if we don't have to. But if we keep losing collared wolves … management becomes difficult," Colton said.