Defenders in Action: Three Rare Wolves Shot During Denning Season in Southwest

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With too many wolves illegally killed, the Mexican wolf recovery program is in danger of failing.

© David Parsons

© David Parsons

While wolves to the north earned a reprieve from hunting this summer, Mexican gray wolves weren’t as lucky. Three of the endangered wolves were gunned down illegally in New Mexico and Arizona in June and July by killers who remain at large. Only about 40 Mexican wolves still live in the wild in the United States.  

Sadly, two of the wolves killed—an alpha male and a yearling male—came from the Hawk’s Nest pack, one of the original packs reintroduced into the wild in 1998. This pack had a proven record of avoiding livestock, with the wolves even moving through herds of cattle to get to elk. (Livestock predation by wolves, while relatively rare, still stirs anti-wolf sentiment in the West.)

“These two wolves were teaching members of their pack to do exactly what they are supposed to do, and still they weren’t allowed to live,” says Defenders’ Southwest representative Craig Miller. “The killings occurred during denning season while the pack was trying to raise seven pups, which require constant attention. Without the two males the pups are less likely to survive.”

The deaths come on the heels of a federal report acknowledging that the 12-year-old Mexican wolf recovery program is in danger of failing, in part because of too many wolf killings. In total, poachers have killed 33 Mexican gray wolves since 1998, and poaching is the animal’s main cause of death. But to date, officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have caught and prosecuted only two poachers.

“With so few Mexican gray wolves remaining in the wild, every single wolf is crucial to the survival of the species,” says Eva Sargent, Defenders’ Southwest program director. “We know that FWS officers are working around the clock to safeguard these wolves, but they need more manpower and resources to keep them safe. They need more boots on the ground—fast.”

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Defenders is offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for these most recent wolf deaths. Combined with rewards from FWS, the states of Arizona and New Mexico and other conservation organizations and individuals, the total reward is now $60,000.

Meanwhile, Defenders is pushing FWS to quickly develop and implement a recovery plan that keeps Mexican gray wolves from extinction in the wild. In addition, Defenders is working with the White Mountain Apache Tribe to encourage the acceptance of wolves on tribal land that abuts the federal lands where the wolves were reintroduced.

Next spring, with support from Defenders, the Apaches will begin offering eco-tours that allow participants to spend a week immersed in traditional Apache culture, while also spending time each day tracking wolves with the tribe’s biologist, doing howling surveys and checking camera traps in the hopes of seeing a wolf.

“With 1.6 million acres of land, the tribe’s acceptance of wolves is key to the wolf’s recovery,” says Miller. “Helping the Apaches benefit from having wolves on their land will also help to conserve one of the rarest wolves on the planet.”

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