Writers on the Range: Remember Wolf 253M
Writers on the Range
His was a very American story. He was a survivor who never let a handicap curb his wanderlust. When his popularity peaked, he was followed by an army of photographers and fans. But it all came to a tragic end when he was shot down for “sport.”
Does this sound like a rock star? To some, Wolf 253M had the same larger-than-life persona and history.
On March 29, the day after the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies was released from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, wolf 253M was shot near an elk feeding ground outside Daniel, Wyo. He was doing nothing wrong, just preying on elk, an animal wolves have relied on for thousands of years. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wyoming’s free-fire zone, which includes about 90 percent of the state, has become a killing zone where wolves can be shot on sight.
Alive, 253M was a symbol of our ability to restore an endangered species and reverse the tragic history of wolf extermination in the Lower 48 states. His death is a harbinger of more violent things to come in the Cowboy State. We could see a wave of killing that will reverse the hard-fought gains toward wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies.
253M embodied characteristics that earned him respect and admiration. He had a limp, the result of a fight with another wolf. But despite the injury, he lived a wild life.
He was a tough team player, working with the other members of the pack to bring home dinner ” a dangerous pursuit, since elk are many times larger than wolves.
Born into Yellowstone National Park’s Druid Peak pack, his limp and black coat made him one of the most recognizable animals in one of the most famous wolf packs. As the pack’s number-two male wolf, he became a canine star. Wolf paparazzi snapped his picture, wolf “groupies” shot video as he and his pack mates played, hunted and snoozed. Some human fans even proclaimed their affection by putting “253” on their license plates.
253M traveled thousands of miles in his lifetime, even visiting Utah. His travels show that connections between wolf ecosystems in Yellowstone, Idaho and Canada are possible, something scientists believe is crucial to the animals’ survival. Wolves can go the distance, if we humans, the wolf’s primary predator, learn to show a little self-restraint.
253M seems to have avoided creating any problems with people or livestock. But, as with other wolves, trouble came looking for him whenever he ventured outside the protected area of Yellowstone Park. In Utah, he was caught in a coyote trap and then moved to Wyoming, where he found his way back to the Druid Peak pack.
Then came his fatal encounter near an area where elk are artificially fed through the winter ” an activity that naturally attracts wolves. Well-armed anti-wolf vigilantes had been scoping out the feed grounds prior to the date when federal protections were removed. 253M, the 253rd wolf to be born in Yellowstone after the animals’ reintroduction, was among the first casualties of the new policy.
In just 16 days since delisting, at least 16 wolves have been killed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. If this killing rate continues, wolves will be pushed back to the brink of extinction.
The blogging and bragging about wolf killing from Wyoming is chilling. This appeared online: “Let’s get ‘er done.” And: “word on the street … is that they had a hell of a fine weekend wolf hunting ” a town wolf hunt … and that on a weekend when most of the rednecks in Jackson (went to) the Snowmobile Hill Climb. Should be a hell of a hunt next weekend.”
Such quotes serve to remind us how far we have yet to go to develop a different kind of relationship with nature and, indeed, each other, a compassionate relationship that recognizes the interdependence of humans and animals, and commits to saving some space for creatures that have nowhere else to go.
Wolves like 253M deserve better than a bullet when they seek out their natural prey in some of their last remaining habitat.
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