Over 100 Sheep Suffocate to Death After Being Chased Into Ravine by Wolves

Two wolves attacked a large group of grazing sheep in Idaho last week, chasing them into a ravine and causing over 100 animals to die by suffocation.

According to a press release from the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission, two adult wolves killed 143 ewes and lambs which had been grazing near Shaw Mountain, which is just outside of Boise, when they forced them into a steep ravine and caused a pile-up. The animals were left to suffocate and die, officials said.

The sheep belonged to rancher Frank Shirts, who told the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission that the mass death occurred during the daylight hours. This in itself is rare, as wolves are nocturnal and usually hunt exclusively at nighttime.

"The wolves scared the hell out of them and pushed them into that little canyon and piled them in there," Shirts said in a press release. "They didn't consume anything. The sheep just suffocated in the pileup and died. We work to make things good for those sheep every day, so it's a shame to lose them."

Dead sheep
Two wolves attacked a band of sheep grazing on Shaw Mountain just outside of Boise and caused the deaths of 143 ewes and lambs. Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission

Gray wolves used to be abundant throughout Idaho before they were eradicated in the state. In 1995, they were reintroduced throughout the state from Canada. Idaho now has the largest population (1,500) of wolves in the Rocky Mountain West.

Shirts told the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission that this has been "the largest and worst incident of wolf predation" he has seen since they were reintroduced to the ecosystem in 1995.

Sheepherders working with Shirts managed to scare off the wolves following the incident. Wildlife officials went to the site and confirmed that the wolves did not return to the area. Officials from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are currently unsure where the wolves came from—it is not clear whether they are part of a pack, or if they are dispersing from a pack in the area.

John Peterson, an Emmett sheep rancher and board president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, told the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission that he felt the "public needs to know these kinds of things are happening."

Shirts said he will apply to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for compensation funds to cover the cost of his lost livestock.

Brian Pearson, bureau chief for Idaho Fish and Game, told the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission said that this area is subject to "chronic livestock depredation events."

It is not the first time wolves have caused issues for livestock in the area. In 2019, the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission reported that over 435 ranchers in Idaho had their livestock killed by wolves. The hunting of wolves is legal in the state, in order to manage the population of livestock predating wolves.

Two wolves killed a band of sheep in Idaho. A stock photo shows a wolf and sheep. Digital Vision/ LeFion