A leader of the pack of critically endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico was killed last month by federal officials because of his recent penchant for hunting livestock, according to Fish and Wildlife Service officials.
Rusty, also known as AM1296, was killed in New Mexico on April 12, shortly after Brady McGee, the Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf recovery coordinator, announced the decision to take out the alpha of the Mangas Pack, which roams southwestern New Mexico in the northern Gila National Forest.
McGee said in a memo announcing the decision that the pack had killed 13 livestock in a 10-month period. Rusty, who wore a radio-collar, was directly linked to nine of those kills, though he sometimes hunted with another male, according to the memo.
Even without Rusty, the Mangas pack will have an adult, a sub-adult and three pups. McGee said that Rusty’s genes will continue to be present in the wild because he has offspring and siblings.
“Further, we do not anticipate that the removal of AM1296 will impact the ability of the pack to raise pups because there are numerous yearlings and adult members of the pack to assist in raising pups,” McGee said.
Aislinn Maestas, a spokeswoman for the wildlife service, said the decision to kill the wolf by gunshot was reached only after non-lethal management techniques were used.
Wolf advocates still raised concerns about Rusty’s death.
Chris Smith, a southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said that killing the breeding or alpha male of a pack can disrupt pack dynamics. There can be in-fighting within the group, and younger wolves who are less experienced hunters can seek out livestock or carcasses — easier prey than an elk, for example — which can lead to more encounters with domesticated animals.
“When you remove kind of a key figure in that social group, there’s all kinds of things that can go awry,” he said.
Maestas said the pack’s breeding female has denned and is raising currently raises the rare pups.
Mexican gray wolves remains critically endangered. Smith said there are fewer than 250 of the animals in the United States.
“We should always just be reminded that this is an animal on the verge of extinction. And cattle are anything but,” Smith said. “They’re out on the landscape to provide private profit. And I just think that needs to be reiterated and remembered every time one of these (wolves) is killed.”
Other wildlife advocates also decried the decision.
“Wolves belong in the wild, and each individual wolf is essential to the species’ survival,” said Nina Eydelman, Animal Protection of New Mexico’s chief program and policy officer – equine and wildlife. “Ranchers who choose to place their domestic cattle on our public lands should have to accept the conditions that come with those public lands, including the presence of healthy populations of native carnivores. Wolves were there first.”