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

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.”

More Articles from Fall 2010

These iconic predators—who once ruled from the southern tip of Africa all the way to northwestern India—are at risk of extinction by 2020.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a natural treasure, yet five decades after its founding it remains vulnerable.
Fresh snow covered the ground on a cold day last March as Marvin Moriarty trudged up the short, steep hill to the entrance of the Greeley Mine in Stockbridge, Vermont, to see first-hand the effects of white-nose syndrome in bats.
Steps the government needs to take before removing wolves from the endangered species list.
Treefrogs, African icons, penguins, baboons and lizards make the news
A federal court sided with Defenders, ruling this summer that the wolf delisting plan illegally removed federal protections from wolves.
These endangered canines closely resemble wolves in their pack-oriented social structure.
Defenders chief scientist heads to the Gulf to document the oil spill's impact on wildlife.
At least 15 piping plover chicks fledged this year at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Defenders Sues To Stop Coal Mining; Foundation Helps Defenders Protect Wildlife; Cousteau Helps Highlight Sea Otter's Plight
Citizen scientists take the road less traveled to help wildlife.
Window collisions are the leading cause of death for migratory songbirds.

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