This paper tracks human–animal entanglements through one particular species, Canis lupus, the wolf, with a view to exploring how this contested predator might be used to unpack normative assumptions about wildlife science, conservation practice and storytelling. The focus of attention here is on Yellowstone National Park and the century-long struggle to eradicate and then restore the wolf based on the shifting rubrics of science and environmental ethics. The ‘wild heart’ of North America and a centre of scientific and popular environmental mythology, Yellowstone presents a useful terrain (both material and contextual) in which to theorize the wolf as an environmental agent and explore its special provenance within an evolving narrative of ecological science. More specifically, the landmark story of restor(y)ation that played out in the national park serves to illuminate the complex web of temporality, narrative and memory that frames our configurations of animal agency. Wiped out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and ruminated on in the interwar period, the wolf was returned to ancestral haunts in the 1990s (to great fanfare) as a charismatic poster animal for environmental consciousness and a vital ‘missing link’ in the psychological and biotic fabric of the landscape. Ornamented with what conservationist Aldo Leopold famously called a ‘fierce green fire’, the wolf became a carrier animal for Yellowstone's environmental memory, transporting with it the fates of other threatened species and the promise of an enlightened Ecological Age. Beneath this teleological tale of expanding biological knowledge and ethical awakening lies a convoluted (and interesting) story that reveals the sinuous connections between the material and the imagined animal as well as the challenges and the complexities of reading non-human traces.