Five Dead Cattle Spell Trouble for Mexican Gray Wolf

Once hunted into virtual extinction, the Mexican gray wolf is now the rarest gray wolf subspecies in North America. Only 200 of the wolves exist in captivity, along with a couple of dozen in the wild, all of which are descended from just seven animals captured a few decades ago. (Those seven wolves were probably the last of the species at the time -- all that remained after a century of government-sponsored eradication efforts.)

Because of this limited population source, the wild wolves now face a situation called "inbreeding depression," causing low birth rates and possible male infertility in some wolves who have too-narrow genetic ancestry. This makes every wolf with a broader range of genes important to the survival of the species.

Unfortunately, two wolves that are believed to be of healthier stock are now going to be trapped and removed from the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is part of a multi-agency effort to reintroduce and recover the species, authorized the capture (PDF) of the two wolves because they reportedly killed five cattle and one horse on private lands.

Luckily, the wolves aren't scheduled for execution for their crimes against humanity. They'll be moved into captivity, where with luck they will remain breeders for further reintroduction efforts. But no matter what, it doesn't help the wild population. Says a Center for Biological Diversity spokesperson, "Trapping these animals will worsen inbreeding depression and may push birth rates downward in a population that is already under siege from government shooting and trapping."

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