Record number of endangered wolves found dead

The U.S. recovery program for Mexican gray wolves continues to struggle.

 

Mexican wolves, the rarest subspecies of gray wolf, face the risk of inbreeding due to their low numbers.

BACKSTORY

By 1950, the Mexican gray wolf had vanished from most of its range — the American Southwest and northern Mexico — owing to hunting, poisoning and trapping to protect livestock interests. Almost 50 years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing them in Arizona and New Mexico, and by 2015, 100 roamed the wild. But recovery has been plagued by mismanagement, poaching and removal of livestock-killing wolves. Now the rare animals are becoming dangerously inbred (“Line of descent,” HCN, 8/8/16).

FOLLOWUP

Seventeen wolves were found dead in 2018, the most since reintroduction began. Investigation is ongoing, though Fish and Wildlife biologists note that more deaths may be coming to light simply because more wolves have radio collars. In prior years, humans were found to have illegally caused more than half of wolf deaths. That trend continues: In May, a New Mexico rancher lost his grazing permit for killing a wolf with a shovel, and in mid-November, an Arizona man was sentenced for intentionally shooting one.

Conservationists want more captive-bred adult wolves released to prevent inbreeding. The agency prefers cross-fostering, placing captive-born pups into dens with wild ones, though critics say that doesn’t increase genetic diversity quickly enough. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must immediately get a handle on the losses and resume releases of captive-bred wolf families,” Bryan Bird, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest program director, told the Associated Press.

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