ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has changed its mind about the fate of a female alpha wolf thought to be behind the deaths of several cattle, opting to send the animal into captivity rather than shooting it.
The Service’s regional director Joy Nicholopoulos said in a letter Friday that the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., volunteered to take the wolf and assume costs for capture and care. That means the wolf will no longer be a threat to cattle.
“The conservation center acknowledges that this wolf will never be released,” Nicholopoulos said in the letter. “… I am authorizing the removal of female 1188 to be captured and placed in captivity for the remainder of her life.”
The last time the Service shot and killed a wolf was in July 2007. It later made its policy on “problem” wolves more flexible.
The Fox Mountain pack is blamed for killing at least four cattle since late March, three of which were on private land outside of a 4.4-million acre wolf recovery area. The alpha female of the Fox Mountain pack has four pups.
Service employees will offer supplemental food and nutrition to the pups, who will remain in the wild.
Despite the Service’s change of heart, one conservation group says the wolf should be allowed back into the wild to care for her pups and lead the Fox Mountain pack, which includes seven adult wolves.
“This very critical wolf basically gets life in prison without parole,” said Daniel Patterson, Southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It’s a very big setback for conservation and recovery.”
There are six breeding wolf pairs in the wild, so Patterson said the species’ last hope of recovery is an increased population.
“There have to be more releases of lobos into the wild,” he said.
Calls to Service spokesmen were not returned, but officials have said the wolf is of low genetic value to its species and constitutes a risk to cattle owners.
Linda Searles, director of the conservation center, said the group keeps 15 wolves at a cost of about $20 a day per wolf. Searles said the center opted to take the alpha female to preserve its genetic material and to save a life.
“She’s an endangered species,” she said. “Her genetics are important to the program.”
Searles said the center adopted one such “problem” wolf years ago, and she has “adapted beautifully.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal