Last year, the American public learned about the brutal killing of an endangered Mexican gray wolf – identified as Mexican wolf No. 1385 of the Willow Springs pack, and named “Mia Tuk” by an Albuquerque schoolchild – by a grazing permittee on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
The news reported that Craig Thiessen pleaded guilty in federal court in May 2018, acknowledging that in 2015 he intentionally captured the young male wolf in a trap and hit the animal with a shovel, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
What we have since learned through documents released under the Freedom of Information Act is that “Mia Tuk” wasn’t just hit with a shovel. Medical examinations of his body showed he was bludgeoned so hard as to shatter his lower jaw and dislocate his teeth. This evidence may contradict Thiessen’s claim he only acted to briefly stun it in order to safely release it from the trap. In fact, it could be proof of severe injury and malice that violates New Mexico’s animal cruelty statute.
“Mia Tuk” deserves the protection of the state animal cruelty law. The animal cruelty statute, Section 30-18-1, applies to all animals except insects or reptiles. “Extreme cruelty to animals” is defined as “intentionally or maliciously torturing, mutilating, injuring or poisoning an animal” or “maliciously killing an animal.” The act of breaking a trapped animal’s jaw with a shovel would clearly fit this description. Although the statute exempts lawful hunting, taking and trapping, that exemption would not apply to Thiessen because he knowingly illegally trapped and killed wildlife not permitted under Department of Game & Fish laws and rules.
Unfortunately, despite multiple inquiries and requests made to the local District Attorney and Attorney General’s offices, no extreme cruelty charges have been filed against Theissen thus far. The statute of limitations for extreme animal cruelty is five years – meaning prosecutors have until 2020 to take action.
“Mia Tuk” is just one of many endangered wolves that have been intentionally harmed by humans in recent years – fueled by fear, hatred and opposition to species recovery. In 2018 alone, 21 Mexican wolf deaths were documented. Despite the gradually growing population in the wild – there are now just 131 living in the southwestern U.S. – each individual Mexican wolf is an important contributor to the genetic health of the species. Every unnecessary death is a tragedy not just for that wolf, but for a program in which Americans have invested so much for decades.
But what happened to “Mia Tuk” is about even more than endangered species conservation. It’s also about the heinous, unwarranted, destructive animal cruelty. This is exactly the type of cruelty that must be vigorously condemned by our society. Studies have shown that animal maltreatment is often linked with other vicious crimes, including family and interpersonal violence. State cruelty laws serve to protect animals and the public alike.
Most New Mexicans strongly support wolf recovery in the Southwest and know that wolves are an essential part of the balance of nature. Many people believe the wolf needs greater protections in order to fully recover and that they certainly should not be subject to outright physical abuse. Holding wolf killers accountable under state animal cruelty statutes would be a good start.