Living in a gateway town to Yellowstone National Park comes with the usual perks and challenges, from abundant wildlife to summers flooded with tourists. But a new spectacle arose on April 12 for Gardiner Public School students and faculty when they discovered that a pack of wolves had killed a cow elk, dragged the carcass onto the GHS football field, and eaten part of it right there — leaving behind a mess of blood, meat, and hide.

Superintendent Jim Baldwin posted a photo of the discovery to Facebook, where it caught folks’ attention and was reposted by friends. 

A Yellowstone National Park ranger watches as the carcass is removed from the field. Photograph via Scott Chauvet / Facebook

“It is common for wildlife to move through and adjacent to the Gardiner community given its location at the doorstep of a national park,” Yellowstone public affairs officer Linda Veress tells the Billings Gazette. “It’s common for elk, bison and pronghorn to be at the school grounds, less so bears and wolves. It is very rare that we document wolves within the town’s developed footprint over the last 28 years. Very seldom, if ever, does park staff need to deal with bears and bison on school grounds.”

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In the photo, a YNP park ranger supervises as the carcass is loaded onto a truck. Investigators chalked the kill up to the 8-Mile pack, which apparently moved through the area in the night and departed the kill site right before dawn. This behavior shows “natural wary and wild wolf behavior by traveling quickly away from the carcass, which was mostly consumed, and returned to the park,” a park spokesperson told the Gazette

A map of the Yellowstone wolf pack ranges.
The 8-Mile pack covers the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, where Gardiner is located. Map via NPS

As of the Yellowstone Wolf Project’s 2022 wolf report, the 8-Mile pack had 11 members, made up of eight adults and three pups. Yellowstone is home to some 10,000 to 20,000 elk across six to seven herds in the summer and roughly 4,000 in the winter. These numbers make them the most abundant large mammal in Yellowstone. Most of YNP’s summer elk migrate to lower elevations external of the park boundary for the colder months, YNP says. They comprise around 85 percent of all winter wolf kills. 

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