A Mexican gray wolf that conservation advocates say was genetically significant to the species' recovery in the wild has been found dead in New Mexico.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed the death of the captive-bred and released Mexican gray wolf known as No.1693. The wolf was discovered on Oct. 8. Fish and Wildlife officials have not released details on his killing because it is still under investigation by law enforcement.
The death came just days after the Fish and Wildlife agency announced a revision to the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan with proposed actions to reduce human-caused wolf mortality.
Mexican wolf No. 1693 was released into the wild in 2018 when he was just 15 days old. He was cross-fostered into a wild wolf den in an effort to increase the genetic diversity of the wild population of wolves, a step biologists say is critical to the survival of the species.
Fish and Wildlife biologists use genetic criteria to make fostering decisions.
He and his mate, wolf No. 1728, were captured and moved from the Rainy Mesa area near Reserve, New Mexico, in the spring of 2021.
Wolf, pack survived huge wildfire
“We were really excited when he paired up with his mate in New Mexico in 2021,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, a group that monitors the wolves. “She was pregnant, sure enough, had some babies and Fish and Wildlife Service released him on private land on the Ladder Ranch last summer, and they seem to be doing pretty well.”
The pair had two sets of litters since the spring of 2021, which, for those who work closely with the wolves, was a sign of hope that recovery efforts are increasing the population of endangered wolves born in the wild.
The family, named Seco Pack, successfully survived the Black Fire this summer, which became New Mexico’s second-largest wildfire on record. It ripped through the range where the Seco Pack had been observed.
An online tracker lets the public see where GPS-collared wolves are roaming in the wild. Anderson had been tracking this wolf online for the past few years and said she noticed he disappeared from his last location on the map about two weeks ago.
Efforts have been made: 11 Mexican gray wolf pups are released into the wild.
His killing is a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and is subject to civil and criminal penalties, up to a year in prison and a $50,000 fine, with additional New Mexico state penalties for violating the Wildlife Conservation Act.
The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world. In 1976, the wolves were listed as endangered, and a binational captive breeding program was established to save the unique species from extinction.
Two wolf management zones were set up in Arizona and New Mexico and, as of 2021, 196 individual wolves were recorded across the two states.
In addition to GPS collars, wolves are counted using on-the-ground methods, such as monitoring wildlife cameras and wolf howling, as well as observing tracks and scat.
It is illegal to kill a Mexican gray wolf under any circumstances and hunters are responsible for differentiating wolves from coyotes.
In this case, wolf No. 1693 was wearing a bright red telemetry collar and conservation advocates say the local community was aware there were wolves in the area.
Advocates say wolves are targeted
Anderson says wolves that are collared have been targeted in the past.
“Wolves die pretty often because of gunshot wounds,” she said. “We're concerned that the collared wolves are a particular target because livestock operators have their telemetry receivers, and they know where the wolves are.”
Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate for the Center of Biological Diversity, described the news of another dead wolf as “awful.” He believes livestock operators should not have access to wolf locations.
"Fish and Wildlife Service should immediately retrieve the telemetry receivers programmed to the wolves' radio-collars that it recklessly loans out," he said. "With two ranchers in possession of these collars who admitted to killing wolves, and over a hundred other wolves shot but without arrests, it's clear that only government biologists should have tools that strip these shy animals of their ability to hide."
Poaching kills more Mexican gray wolves than any other cause. Almost 150 wolves have been killed unlawfully since their reintroduction to Arizona and New Mexico began. A similar number of radio-collared wolves have disappeared, many under suspicious circumstances, advocates say, during this same span.
In 2022, two wolves in Arizona have been confirmed to have been shot and killed.
During the first week of January, Fish and Wildlife officials confirmed a Mexican gray wolf was shot and killed near Flagstaff. On June 18, the body of an adult male was found with a gunshot wound in eastern Arizona.
The goal of the revised plans announced by Fish and Wildlife earlier this month is to curb these illegal killings.
On Oct. 14, 2021, a federal court in Arizona sent the 2017 recovery plan back to the wildlife agency to address the threat of human-caused mortality. The revised plan included new site-specific management actions to address threats, including education and outreach, an increase of law enforcement presence in areas designated as mortality hot spots and the use of livestock conflict-avoidance measures.
Anderson said the death of another wolf is an opportunity to remind hunters to know their targets.
“Know the difference between wolves and coyotes and don’t shoot,” she said. “And if they see and encounter a wolf, observe it, take photos, and enjoy the fact that they got the sighting of a rare wild animal.”
Human-caused mortality remains one of the main hurdles in the recovery efforts of the Mexican gray wolf.
“Working with wolves is always sort of a rollercoaster,” Anderson said. “So it’s not the first time my heart has broken over a wolf, but I take comfort in knowing that he got two rounds of puppies.”
A reward of up to $50,000 is available for information leading to the conviction of the killer or killers of Mexican wolves.
Jake Frederico covers environment issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to email@example.com.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Captive-born Mexican gray wolf is killed in New Mexico