A Mexican wolf that was known to prey on livestock has been killed in New Mexico.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the lethal removal of the wolf, known as M1296 or by the name Rusty, which was given to him by a middle school student participating in a naming competition.
The killing was authorized in March and Rusty was killed on April 12.
Rusty was part of a pack known as the Mangas Pack that has territory in both New Mexico and Arizona.
The Mangas Pack lives in the northern Gila National Forest. The pack has run into trouble with livestock in the past and, in 2020, two members of the wolf pack were killed by federal officials due to conflicts with livestock.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Mangas Pack killed livestock 13 times in an area of New Mexico between May 21, 2022 and March 7, 2023.
Rusty had come close to dying before. In 2013, he’d stepped in a trap set for coyotes on private land in New Mexico and wildlife officials were concerned his injuries from the trap would prove lethal.
But Rusty survived those injuries and went on to find a mate—F1327 of the San Mateo Pack—who was fatally shot by an unknown gunman less than a year later. The Mangas Pack was established when F1327 and Rusty paired up. In June 2014, her body was found in New Mexico. Officials left a supplemental food cache to help Rusty feed his pack.
The High Country News chronicled Rusty’s story in 2016.
After losing his first mate, Rusty paired up with a female known as F1439, who continues to roam in the northwestern Gila area of New Mexico. She joined Rusty in 2015 after leaving the Hawks Nest Pack, though they were not considered a breeding pair in 2015.
Wolf advocates decried the decision to kill Rusty.
“This is a sad day for Mexican wolves and a devastating loss for the Mangas pack, which could be welcoming pups at any moment,” Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center executive director, said in a press release. “Apart from endangering the Mangas pack’s survival, science has shown that removing a wolf parent from the family can destabilize the pack and increase the likelihood of further conflicts.”
She was referencing a 2018 study that found killing wolves that are known to prey upon livestock does not reduce the future livestock losses and could lead to problems on neighboring farms. This study focused on wolves in Michigan and supported non-lethal methods of protecting livestock from wolves, such as livestock guard dogs.
According to the memorandum authorizing Rusty’s killing, the numerous yearling wolves as well as adult pack members should be able to feed the pups that could be born this year.
Wolf advocates say that when a breeding adult is killed, the rest of the pack become more desperate to find food. The breeding adults tend to be older, more experienced hunters. The younger wolves may turn to livestock as prey because the livestock is easier to kill.
“Every single time a Mexican wolf is killed by the agency meant to protect and restore lobos, we need to remember: these are critically imperiled, native, ecosystem engineers who belong in the wilds of the American Southwest,” Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Cows are destructive, non-native animals that are only on the landscape to bring profits to a special interest.”
Since reintroduction efforts began in 1998, nearly two dozen wolves have been killed by federal officials and another two dozen have been killed accidentally as officials have attempted to capture them.
Wolf advocates highlighted Rusty’s death as an example of the federal wildlife agency prioritizing livestock over the endangered wolf.
“The government should be targeting problem-prone grazing allotments instead of scapegoating wolves,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release. “This wolf might still be alive if the Fish and Wildlife Service had only followed the science and required ranchers to remove the bodies of non-wolf-killed cattle before wolves began to scavenge. The available evidence here suggests wolves were drawn in by decaying cattle corpses.”