ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It’s been more than two months since a federal wildlife specialist reported shooting an animal in southwestern New Mexico that upon closer inspection looked like a Mexican gray wolf, but officials remain tightlipped about the case.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services confirmed Thursday that the January shooting is under investigation.
Officials said they’re awaiting lab results to determine whether the animal was in fact an endangered Mexican gray wolf.
They refused to comment on why the employee shot the animal.
“Wildlife Services is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the ongoing investigation,” Wildlife Services spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said in a statement. “Given the ongoing investigation, no additional details are available at this time.”
Monthly reports on the status of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program do not mention the incident. However, they show that a Wildlife Services employee was in the Mangus area investigating two cattle kills on Jan. 19.
Environmentalists who have been critical of the government’s management of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona said the limited information raises more questions about the transparency of Wildlife Services’ activities and the wolf program.
“It’s very disturbing,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “To me, it speaks to a lot of questions about the management culture. We’ve seen over and over that the lives of these wolves have been devalued in official decisions and in some cases unofficial decisions, as this may have been.”
Just last week, the effort to return Mexican gray wolves to New Mexico and Arizona marked its 15th anniversary. There are now at least 75 wolves roaming in the two states, but the program has been marred over the years by illegal shootings, disputes over management and courtroom battles. Environmentalists have been asking that more wolves be released, while ranchers have complained that the predators are threatening livelihoods and rural communities.
The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of the larger northern gray wolf, was exterminated in the wild in the Southwest by the 1930s. It was added to the endangered species list in 1976 and the reintroduction effort began in 1998.