Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf Named ‘Rusty’ Killed By U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service For Allegedly Killing Cattle

An endangered Mexican gray wolf has been killed in New Mexico by federal employees, according to a document released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The wolf, named Rusty, was killed on April 12th, leaving behind his likely pregnant mate and several yearling pups. The Service quietly authorized the killing on March 29th, which also marked the 25th anniversary of Mexican wolves returning to the wild.

“This is a sad day for Mexican wolves and a devastating loss for the Mangas pack, which could be welcoming pups at any moment,” Maggie Howell, executive director of Wolf Conservation Center said in a statement. “Apart from this endangering the Mangas pack’s survival, science has shown that removing a wolf parent from the family can destabilize the pack and increase the likelihood of further conflicts.”

The Service issued the order to kill Rusty because of his alleged involvement in killing cattle. The cattle were mostly killed on public lands and an unspecified number of cattle carcasses from animals that had not been killed by wolves were found in the Mangas pack’s territory.

The Mangas pack lives in New Mexico near the state line with Arizona, as well as in national forest allotments where livestock management has resulted in the previous removal of wolves. These removals include two pups from the pack who were shot by the government in March 2020. Federal employees have shot and killed 22 of the wolves since reintroduction began in 1998, and 24 others have died inadvertently as a result of capture. This latest killing highlights the ongoing prioritization of the private livestock industry over the recovery of the world’s most endangered gray wolf.

“Every single time a Mexican wolf is killed by the agency meant to protect and restore lobos. We need to remember: these are critically imperiled, native, ecosystem engineers who belong in the wilds of the American Southwest,” stated Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Cows are destructive, non-native animals that are only on the landscape to bring profits to a special interest.”

Conservationists warn that the removal of a breeding male could have severe consequences for the pack’s survival. Scientific studies show that wolf removal can increase the potential for conflict, especially when breeding adults are killed. The remaining pack members, many of whom are learning to hunt, are more desperate to find food without the help of an experienced adult and thus are more likely to turn to unprotected livestock.

“The Service keeps this type of action under wraps until there is already a dead wolf, limiting opportunities for meaningful discussions around conflict prevention or livestock management,” noted Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project. “The public has a right to know when there are kill orders for endangered wildlife. Both Mexican wolves and public lands belong to the American public and should not be managed exclusively for the livestock industry.”

“The government should be targeting problem-prone grazing allotments instead of scapegoating wolves,” concluded Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This wolf might still be alive if the Fish and Wildlife Service had only followed the science and required ranchers to remove the bodies of non-wolf-killed cattle before wolves began to scavenge. The available evidence here suggests wolves were drawn in by decaying cattle corpses.”

The Mexican gray wolf is the southernmost subspecies of gray wolf in North America, and the most endangered. They were exterminated from the United States and Mexico by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its predecessor agency. After the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act, seven Mexican gray wolves were successfully bred in captivity.

Reintroduction into Arizona and New Mexico began in 1998. According to the most recent annual census, at least 241 Mexican gray wolves live in the wild in the United States. Several dozen also live in Mexico, where reintroduction began in 2011.

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