UPDATED 5:30 PM, DEC 17 2014; SECOND UPDATE 9:20 A.M. DEC. 18, 2014
A pregnant sheep found dead yesterday in northern Whitman County was killed by a wolf, according to state wildlife officials, who are also working with the producer to prevent more depredations.
“One hundred percent certainty it was a wolf kill,” says WDFW’s Joey McCanna in St. John.
A 41/2-year-old ewe that turned up dead last week on the same ranch near Lamont was classified as a “probable” wolf kill.
This week’s sheep was one of three that were found dead on Tuesday. Two were too scavenged to determine a cause of death, but the third exhibited “signature wounds to the hind legs,” according to McCanna, including punctures from canine teeth and the so-called grape-jelly effect of muscle torn while an animal’s heart is still beating.
McCanna also said there was a set of wolf tracks.
Apparently, the three sheep and others had escaped from an enclosure because recent freeze-thaw cycles had lifted some wire up, allowing the animals to sneak underneath.
The producer, Whitman County commissioner Art Swannack, according to the Lewiston Morning Tribune, was herding the sheep back in when a dead one was found. Subsequently, the other two were discovered. McCanna said two had been fed on by coyotes too much to tell why they died.
Later in the day, Nate Pamplin, WDFW’s Wildlife Program manager, reported the sheep were found a half mile outside the wire.
The Spokesman-Review and Seattle Times added that the Swannacks have been missing an Anatolian sheep dog for a week and presume it is dead. (In Pend Oreille County last winter, an Akbash sheep dog ran off with two wolves, impregnating one.) Two other guard dogs with the flock were reported as uninjured.
McCanna says that the sheep rancher is now reinforcing the fencing, continuing to use Fox lights, which are programmed to send off random pulses of light to keep predators at bay, and has ordered some night penning materials for use in the grazing area and at the home ranch when he brings the flock in for lambing by the end of the month.
“We’re working with the producer on a daily basis,” McCanna says.
“The producer has entered into a Livestock Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreement with WDFW. The producer plans to follow their normal practice and move the sheep from the current grazing pasture to another location around their house by the end of the year,” added Pamplin.
WDFW is also actively searching for a wolf or wolves in the area, looking for tracks and setting up cameras.
Tracking is difficult because of ground cover — stubble — but McCanna says he cut one clear set of wolf tracks on a gravel road, thanks to recent rains.