Wolves killed 19 elk—17 of them calves—in one night in what Wyoming officials are calling a "sport killing," USA Today reports. "They went crazy and just took down each elk and moved on to the next," the game and fish department's John Lund says. Killing that many elk in one night is unusual for area wolves, who typically stick to one or two kills per night. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, the carcasses of the elk herd were found at a feeding ground Tuesday. Lund tells CNN officials are concerned because wolves usually eat their kills or at least come back to feed later. The carcasses have been left out incase the wolves do eventually come back, but that's unlikely as humans have now touched the carcasses.
Ken Mills, a biologist with the game and fish department, tells the Star-Tribune sport killings can be triggered by an increased vulnerability in prey, due to anything from snow to disease. “They’re like a person living day to day, getting enough to survive. When prey is vulnerable, they don’t have that mechanism to stop,” Mills says. “Killing is how they survive. If someone is barely making it day to day and they walk into a buffet, they’re going to eat like it’s a buffet.” Lund estimates about 7% of the area's 1,100 elk have been killed this winter—well above normal. That will likely have an impact on hunting season, but the state's hands are tied. Wolves, which are federally protected, can be legally killed if they're attacking livestock but not wild game. (Read more wolves stories.)