*Trigger warning: Animal cruelty and wolf abuse discussed below
For over a year, my colleague at Western Watersheds Project and I have been paging through gory reports of dead livestock, most of them (questionably) attributed to Mexican wolf predation. I’ve gotten somewhat inured to seeing the bloody corpses of cattle, decapitated calves, and dissection necropsies. It’s unpleasant work, but it’s turned up some very interesting results: Namely, many of the confirmed Mexican wolf depredations are unsubstantiated based on the evidence in the reports, and some are so full-scale bogus as to call into question how, exactly, Wildlife Services is making these decisions.
Still, all the mangled livestock in those color photos didn’t prepare me for looking at photos of dead Mexican wolves. I have recently been poring through law enforcement reports of lobo deaths that were provided to me by the Center for Biological Diversity who obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act and, let me tell you, there are some real sickos out there killing wolves. Like, really sick.
I recently uncovered some evidence that Craig Thiessen, already known as a brutal wolf-hating rancher who whacked a trapped young wolf #1385 (named “Mia Tuk”) with a shovel so hard that it broke loose the lobo’s jaw, actually admitted to beating trapped wolves twice. He apparently confessed that he beat two trapped lobos into submission, and in a later declaration, he claims he let Mia Tuk go free afterwards and “sadly, it was later killed by other wolves.” The “sadly” of that sentence really ices the cake of this guy’s crime, given that he’s the same person who was investigated for leaving out poisoned meatballs near cow carcasses on the public lands that he rents from the American public to graze his cattle.
Other wolves from the same pack went missing the same year, and many of these disappearances look pretty darned suspicious. There’s the skull of Mia Tuk’s mother, AF1279, that was recovered a few months later in the vicinity of Mia Tuk’s body. The lower jaw had been cut with a handsaw, meaning (maybe?) that someone knew something about this wolf’s death and went back to try to… I don’t know… retrieve some wolf teeth? Why does someone take a saw to a wolf skull?
I wish that I could put these reports into a file called “Isolated Incidents,” and close that box. But then there’s female pup fp1389 who was shot with a projectile twice, hit in the head with a hammer-like object, and didn’t die until several days later when she developed a secondary infection. There’s adult female wolf #1212 who was caught in a snare trap by a rancher who knew there were wolves in the area but went ahead and set up traps for “coyotes.” (And yes, I’m just as horrified that coyotes are treated this way, but lobos are a highly endangered species, already at high risk of a second wild extinction, and every loss of an individual wolf puts the recovery of the entire species at risk). Then there are the poisoned meatballs, the high-powered rifles, the people who intentionally ran over a wolf with their truck, all the various ways that people kill wolves simply out of hatred and stupidity.
Somehow, even after years of hearing about “Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up” from ranchers and trophy hunters, and seeing social media posts that boast about acts of extreme cruelty, the existence of these sick people still shocks me. I’m shocked at the maliciousness, the remorselessness, and the sheer spite it would require to torture or kill these creatures, and it enrages me how so many of them get away with it. My outrage alone doesn’t change anything; 96 wolves were known to have been killed illegally and missing under suspicious circumstances between 1998 and 2018.
So how do we change this? How do we get state law enforcement interested in prosecuting under the Animal Cruelty laws? How do we get federal prosecutors to actually go after these bastards? How do we get rid of the McKittrick policy that allows liars to claim they “thought it was a coyote” despite the brightly colored collars and the knowledge that there are lobos in the area? How do we solve the problem of entitled sickos who think it’s OK to rob wolf packs of family members and ecosystems of essential predators? I sure don’t know, but I know that by burying the crimes deep in the agency files isn’t helping, but maybe bringing some of these horrible stories to light will. Maybe with enough public pressure, we’ll see more interest in pursuing and prosecuting these crimes.