Students at The Mountain School understand that animals die. Skunks and raccoons have gotten into the chicken coop at Bellevue private school before, and animal husbandry and wilderness skills teacher John DeLorenzo said the students are well aware that chickens are for eating.
But when Buttercup the Nubian goat was killed by a predator on Jan. 11, DeLorenzo said the students had a different reaction.
"A couple of them burst into tears," he said. "Butterscotch was their favorite."
Butterscotch was visiting a ranch in West Magic owned by Richard Barney, who had billy goats with which The Mountain School was attempting to breed their two nanny goats. Though one goat, Lady Gaga, escaped the predator, Butterscotch was killed.
"[Barney] came out there in the morning and found her dead," DeLorenzo said. "He found tracks, 3-and-a-half-inch canine tracks with blood in them near the kill.
DeLorenzo said the rancher believes the goat was killed by a wolf that he saw lurking around the ranch the next night.
Kelton Hatch, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game office in Jerome, said Monday that the department has not determined what predator attacked the goat, and calls to the rancher to have an officer investigate had not been returned.
There is no wolf pack in the area that the state is aware of, said George Graves, assistant state director of U.S. Wildlife Services.
"To our knowledge, there are some individuals ... that were following the deer and elk," Graves said. "As far as an actual pack, we're not aware of any in the area."
However, Graves said the size of the prints would be consistent with a wolf print, which are typically 3 to 4 inches wide and about 5 inches long. Coyote tracks are generally 1.5 inches wide and 2 inches long, but Graves said that in melting snow, the tracks could expand slightly.
DeLorenzo emphasized that the goat was not killed on Mountain School property, and that he's never heard wolves prowling around the animals' enclosure in Bellevue. He said he's heard the Bell Mountain pack in the area—the pack that killed a calf on John Peavey's ranch late last year—but he said they don't come close to the school.
"I've never seen wolf tracks down here," he said.
DeLorenzo said the school obtained the 9-month-old goats when their mother died. Though the students enjoy working with Lady Gaga, DeLorenzo said, Butterscotch was a favorite because she was more "mellow," a little bit gentler with the younger children than her more aggressive sister.
As to whether Butterscotch will be replaced, DeLorenzo said he isn't sure. Breeding Lady Gaga may have been successful, but if not, DeLorenzo said one goat might be enough to teach the students about milking.
In addition to the pen where Lady Gaga now resides, the school has a chicken coop, several miniature horses and a rabbit hutch, all part of the school's program to teach the students how to care for animals. The students harvest fiber from the school's three angora goats and two angora rabbits and even help care for the chickens and collect eggs.
"They learn about that part of life," DeLorenzo said. "They do learn about the fact that we do have predators that are around, and sometimes on a farm or ranch, you may lose some animals. It's all part of a learning experience for them."
Butterscotch's death has been educational for the children, he said, as it provided an opportunity for the teachers to explain how nature has a balance between predators and prey.
"There needs to be balance in everything," he said. "They kind of understand that it's part of the process, and you have to just control that.
"That doesn't mean you kill every skunk in the world—or every wolf in the world ... but the kids that are here are getting a much more realistic, true-to-life experience of these things than just watching a Disney movie or something."
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com