A criminal’s bullet ended the life of one of my friends on June 18, 2010, in the wild in eastern Arizona where he was born. Mexican gray wolf AM1044 was only four years old, but he had already made his mark as a member of a breeding pair* of lobos in 2008 and 2009. Had he survived until the end of this year, along with his mate and at least two of the pups in the Hawk’s Nest pack’s 2010 litter, he would have achieved that status for the third year in a row.
Alpha Female 1110, AM 1044’s mate, taken May 24, 2010 by Jean Ossorio
I first encountered AM1044 in 2007, when he was just a yearling member of the Paradise pack. My husband and I were volunteers collecting Mexican wolf scat for a research project. We had stopped to eat lunch near Green’s Peak, when four lobos, one wearing a radio collar, crossed the forest road where we were parked, traveling from north to south. We aren’t sure whether AM1044 was the collared wolf crossing the road, but we do know that he was south of the road a few minutes later, when a member of the Mexican wolf field team arrived with a telemetry receiver. He identified the signals of all three collared members of the pack, including AM1044, in the rolling grassland to the south.
Two years later, in late May 2009, a friend and I watched AM1044, AF1110, and two yearlings cross the road near where we were setting up our camp. The four wolves, silhouetted against a cloudy sky, moved slowly but deliberately across a meadow, through a fence, over a ridge, and out of sight. In July, my husband and I watched the same four animals climb a burned-over hillside not far from the earlier sighting. By late August, the Hawk’s Nest pups were large enough to join other members of the pack as they roamed their territory. Another friend and I had the extraordinary luck to watch three Hawk’s Nest wolves, including a half-grown pup, cross a little valley. As they disappeared into the forest, we managed to get fuzzy photographs of two of them.
By the spring of 2010 I had come to count the Hawk’s Nest wolves as friends—four-legged friends, to be sure, but friends whose adventures and welfare were as important to me as those of human friends I have known over the years. I cheered when it was clear they had denned again this year. I was thankful that the Hawk’s Nest pack had not suffered illegal killings since the earliest days of the reintroduction, nor had they killed any livestock. They were as close to a model pack of Mexican gray wolves as one could possibly imagine.
On May 24th of this year, my friend Billie Hughes and I found tracks of the Hawk’s Nest wolves on a quiet forest road. We carefully poured track casting material into a track, sat down, and waited patiently for the cast to solidify. To our great surprise and delight, three Mexican wolves appeared several hundred yards away in the grassy valley near the road. The wind must have been blowing from the wolves toward us, as they apparently didn’t catch our scent. They moved slowly up the valley in our direction, allowing us to snap seven photos. I don’t believe AM1044 was among them that day, but AF1110 clearly was. She appears on several of the photos, the missing hair on her belly and her swollen teats indicating that she was nursing pups. At the risk of shamelessly anthropomorphizing, she appeared to be enjoying a “mom’s afternoon out,” while another pack member babysat the puppies.
Less than a month after Billie and I had our close encounter with the wolves, life in the Hawk’s Nest pack abruptly changed. AM1044 was dead. No human watched him die except, perhaps, the criminal or criminals who fired the fatal shots. Was AF1110 there? Did she or one of the yearling pups from her 2009 litter watch him fall, or see the “green fire” that Aldo Leopold described, fade in his eyes? Or did he simply fail to return from a short trip scouting the area for prey? All I know for certain is that he did nothing to deserve his fate. He was a good father and a good hunter of elk, or he wouldn’t have had such success in raising pups. He stayed away from cattle, but unfortunately, came too close to a person with a firearm. Whoever fired the shots that took the life of AM1044 undoubtedly saw the radio collar around his neck, as he looked through the scope on his rifle and took aim. I can’t comprehend the killer’s motive in shooting AM1044, but I do know that my friend is dead and I miss him very much.
*The Final Rule that governs the Mexican gray wolf reintroduction defines a breeding pair as follows: Breeding pair means an adult male and an adult female wolf that have produced at least two pups during the previous breeding season that survived until December 31 of the year of their birth.
Editor’s note: Two Mexican gray wolf Alpha Males have been found dead in the past several weeks-34 of the highly endangered Mexican gray wolves have been killed by criminals Since 1998. These highly endangered wolves are on the brink of extinction. Click Here to find out how you can help.