"State and federal agencies must do more to immediately safeguard these rarest of animals from senseless killing, which remains as the greatest threat to the survival of Mexican wolves."
The killing of a federally protected male Mexican gray wolf near Winston, NM in early October marks yet another obstacle to efforts to restore the imperiled species in its native range. The wolf, whose death is still under investigation, was identified as No. 1693. He was wearing the highly visible radio tracking collar and was a unique and prolific contributor to the diversity of the Mexican gray wolf population in the wild. The death comes on the heels of Defenders’ legal challenges to strengthen policy protections for this endangered species.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Division has not yet released details, poaching and other human intervention is the leading cause of death for gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wolf recovery team confirmed that No. 1693 had been born in captivity and released with his family in 2018 at just 15 days old. He, his mate, No. 1728, and their puppies were captured in 2021 and moved to and released on the privately-owned Ladder Ranch adjacent to the Gila National Forest. The wolf, who fathered two litters since being released into the wild in 2018, was genetically valuable and was key in continuing the efforts to diversify wild wolf genes in the Southwest.
“The killing of Mexican gray wolf No. 1693 was either a blatant illegal attempt to undermine recovery of our critically endangered lobos or yet another case of a poorly trained hunter mistaking a wolf’s identity for a coyote, which is unlikely given the wolf’s brightly colored radio collar,” said Craig Miller, the Defenders of Wildlife senior Southwest representative.
The Mexican gray wolf has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1976. Recovery initiatives and efforts to improve the species’ genetic diversity have increased the number of wolves in the wild from seven to 196 at the most recent count by FWS.
FWS told Defenders that the state of New Mexico loses at least 20 Mexican gray wolves to unnatural deaths each year – with a majority lost to poachers.
The dead wolf, known as "Grenville" by the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri, where he was born, or No. 1693 locally was bred in captivity and released and cross-fostered into a wild wolf den in 2018. Conservationists relocated No. 1693 and its mate from an area near Reserve, NM to Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch under the Turner Endangered Species Fund in 2021, a move met with controversy among the local ranching community.
In October 2021, the District Court of Arizona ordered FWS to revisit its 2017 species recovery plan, required under the ESA, to address the persistent threat of human-involved mortality, including illegal killings.
“State and federal agencies must do more to immediately safeguard these rarest of animals from senseless killing, which remains as the greatest threat to the survival of Mexican wolves,” said Miller. “Defenders of Wildlife is hopeful that public land users will respect the broad public interest in conserving our wildlife and that the remaining pack will survive to help the wild population recover on public lands across the Southwest.”
On Oct. 5, FWS released its final Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan Second Revision, days before the body of the male wolf was found. However, environmentalists and field experts see the death as evidence that not enough is being done to curb illegal killings.
Though the protections were ultimately restored, FWS continues to fall short of providing the necessary support to the Mexican gray wolf recovery.
The revised plan increases law enforcement in mortality hot spots, avoidance measures to facilitate Mexican wolf movement away from ranches and livestock and those that reduce vehicle collisions.
Coexistence tools – like range riders, electric fencing and strategic grazing practices – are essential in restoring wolf populations in the Southwest and throughout the United States. Defenders of Wildlife continues to provide coexistence training and tools to ranchers throughout the Rockies and Great Plains to encourage thriving agriculture and wildlife on public and private lands.