(CNN) — In what appears to be a case of “sport killing,” a pack of wolves slaughtered a herd of elk in one night, Wyoming wildlife officials said Friday.
Nineteen elk, mostly calves, were found dead several days ago at a feeding ground near Bondurant, a town southeast of Jackson, said John Lund of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. A contractor delivering feed to the herd discovered the dead animals.
Lund said wildlife officials are concerned because wolves usually eat what they kill or come back later to feed.
“It appears to be sport killing,” he said. The pack suspected of killing the elks has nine wolves, he added.
There are about 1,100 elk in the area, he said, and about 7% of the population has been lost to wolves this winter.
“There is a significant concern among wildlife managers,” he said, noting that there are no reports of wolves attacking humans. “Our concern is big game.”
But there’s nothing the state agency can do, he said. Wolves are federally federally protected and managed.
In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to take wolves off the endangered list and turn over management of the animals to Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website. That would have allowed state-regulated hunting of wolves.
But a federal judge ruled in 2014 that wolves remain under federal control and be relisted as an endangered species.
The federal agency could kill wolves that are attacking livestock but not wildlife, said Mike Jiminez, the wildlife service’s Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf coordinator, according to the Casper Star Tribune.
Wolves, once nearly extinct, were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website. The number of wolves grew and spread across the region.