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Mexican gray alpha wolf quietly killed following concerns with livestock

Two captive Mexican gray wolves at the Dickerson Zoo in Springfield Missouri
Christian Gott
Two captive Mexican gray wolves at the Dickerson Zoo in Springfield Missouri

Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the nearly-extinct Mexican gray wolf back to the southwest.

On the very same day the agency was celebrating this anniversary, it made a decision to quietly kill the leader of the Mangas wolf packnicknamed ‘Rusty’ –– who was known to prey on livestock.

KUNM sat down with Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, to talk about the impact of that decision.

MICHAEL ROBINSON: What we do know now is that the Mangas Pack is in an area where there's been repeated conflicts. In fact, three years ago, two pups from the Mangas Pack were shot dead by the U.S. government because of these conflicts with livestock. And we also know that the livestock grazing has led to at least one — and we'll find out hopefully more when we file our FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request — but at least one cow that died of non-wolf causes that it's very likely the wolves scavenged on.

Part of the problem is that the U.S. government does not require livestock owners to clean up or render inedible the carrion of livestock that die from poisonous weeds or lightning strikes or other predators, or a variety of other causes, and that draw wolves to scavenge and end up putting the wolves in close proximity to vulnerable, live domestic animals.

KUNM: Ironically, the killing was authorized in the very timespan that the organization was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf. What message does the killing send to the country, then? 

ROBINSON: It sends the message that they've been sending throughout. This is the 22nd wolf that the U.S. government has shot dead on behalf of the livestock industry and it sends the message that the livestock industry will curtail the recovery of Mexican wolves as they've done before.

Thankfully, the Center for Biological Diversity is in court in two separate court cases on behalf of the Mexican wolf. We've won previous cases that have expanded where the wolves are allowed to roam, and have greatly curtailed the government shooting of wolves. We're gonna keep at it and make sure that these wolves get the maximum legal protection that they actually deserve.

KUNM: You claim the killing took Rusty away from his likely pregnant mate. Why do we think his partner was pregnant? And what are the implications of taking away a breeding male from his partner and now his pack?

ROBINSON: Yes, well, we don't know for sure that she's pregnant. We will find out in the coming weeks. They have had pups successfully in the past and typically long standing pairs like this, who have successfully bred in the past continue to do so.

Fish and Wildlife Service does feed a majority of the breeding wolves in the wild, which is a problematic aspect of their management that causes a lot of harm overall. We don't know what's going to happen.

KUNM: We reached out to the USFWS for comment on its removal order and what you are saying about this. They said they had none, but what does the Center for Biological Diversity want to happen or change?

ROBINSON: The wolf killings by the government need to end and the wolf captures on behalf of the livestock industry that are curtailing the range of the Mexican wolf and scientists have pointed to Fish and Wildlife management of the Mexican wolves as terribly damaging. And in fact, Fish and Wildlife Service management has reduced the genetic diversity that was salvaged from the last seven wolves that survived a previous Fish and Wildlife Service wolf extermination program, the last seven Mexican wolves.

The mismanagement since reintroduction has greatly reduced the genetic diversity from those last seven animals. Fish Wildlife Service is on the wrong track. They're killing wolves and curtailing their range and not releasing wolves from captivity in a way that actually leads to them surviving in significant numbers, all on behalf of the livestock industry. We will see them in court. We have two active lawsuits for them now, and we're going to do everything we can to shut down this ill-advised, reckless and industry-friendly upselling and suppression program that the Fish and Wildlife Service is engaged in.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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