By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
More often than not, they go hungry. They don't catch everything they chase, so they become as opportunistic as a dog alone in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. They have been known to take several calves per night from a herd of cows, eat what they want and leave the rest for the coyotes. They can take a cow about to give birth and eat the fetus right out of her and leave her to die. And in the Southwest, killing cattle was their undoing.
@body:The Mexican wolf was eradicated with the single-mindedness of purpose that scientists brought to wiping out smallpox and polio. "The rhetoric of the wolf-control program is chillingly similar to Hitler's 'final solution' for the Jews," Dave Foreman wrote in his 1991 book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior.
In the 1940s, biologists identified five separate wolf species in the Southwest, which more recent classifiers have combined as one, Canis lupus baileyi. The turn-of-the-century locals just called it a lobo wolf. What's known about it is highly speculative. The notion of studying wildlife in its habitat dates only to the 1950s; the Mexican wolf was gone by then, and all that remains are observations of a hunted and harried population culled mostly from reports of the men who trapped it.
At two and a half feet tall at the shoulder, five feet long and 70 to 90 pounds, they are smaller than timber wolves, though not as small as the Eastern red wolf. They range in color from black to tawny brown.
Before the 19th-century settlers moved into the wolves' range--the wooded areas and grasslands from the New Mexico bootheel to just south of Flagstaff--the carnivores preyed mostly on deer. But as the settlers decimated the deer and other game populations for their own subsistence, the wolves turned increasingly to preying on livestock.
In the 1890s, as detailed by David E. Brown in his book The Wolf in the Southwest, a terrible drought struck this part of the country. Cattle died in droves, and the wolf population gorged and prospered on the carrion. When the livestock industry recovered, the wolf problem was more serious than ever. There were more of them, and they had a taste for beef.
State and federal governments as well as ranchers hired full-time trappers and paid bounties for large predators--bears, lions and coyotes--as well as wolves. As Foreman has written, "A wolf you saw was a wolf you shot." Or followed to its den to kill its young. Or trapped. Or, mostly, poisoned.
Because wolves, like most canids, are creatures of habit, trappers were able to track their routines and anticipate where to find them. Wolves are fussy about their feet; they cover ranges of 40 to 70 miles, but always follow the same paths of least resistance over roads and cow paths and "wolf runs" they trod into the landscape, smooth paths like those a fenced dog might pace into the backyard grass. So trappers knew where the wolves would be, and had a good idea of when. They would lead an old horse to the wolf run, shoot it, then quickly inject it with poison, so that it would pump through the horse's bloodstream. The wolves would find the carcass, eat it and die themselves.
Wolf hunters killed hundreds of wolves per year, until, by the 1930s, the only wolves in Arizona and New Mexico were those that wandered north over the Mexican border. The trappers took up posts, like a Border Patrol for predators; politicians even suggested building a wolfproof fence along the border to keep out lupine interlopers.
The last confirmed shooting of a wolf in Arizona took place in 1966; the last in New Mexico were shot in 1970. And though the Fish and Wildlife Service had listed the Mexican wolf as an endangered species in the mid-1970s, David E. Brown wrote in The Wolf in the Southwest that ranchers near Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona quietly hired a professional hunter to track and shoot a lone wolf preying on their herds. The wolf was killed--and endangered-species protection be damned.
That may not have been the last lone wolf to sneak into Arizona, however.
@body:On October 23, 1992, Laura White Dupee, a range conservation officer with the Forest Service in Coronado National Forest, was walking through the rolling oak woodlands south of Patagonia, near the Mexican border.
It was an overcast, drizzly day, and Dupee was heading down a steep hill toward her truck. "I saw some animals out of the corner of my eye, and they were so large, I thought they were deer," she says.
Three wolves trotted out of the brush, a half-grown pup followed by two adults, that, given their relative sizes, Dupee took to be a mated male and female. They had the blunted noses and rounded ears of Mexican wolves, but were larger than the ones she had seen at the zoo.
There was no breeze that day, so the wolves didn't notice her. She wanted to whistle to get their attention, as you might a deer, to make them stop and look at her a moment.
"I couldn't get anything out because my mouth was so dry," she remembers, "but they heard me, anyway, and perked their ears up for a few seconds. Then they startled and they trotted off."
She felt sure they were wolves. "I didn't do blood tests on them," she says. And though Forest Service biologists later found tracks nearby, they could not confirm that they had been made by wolves.