So, what’s this about killing a wolf at the Minnesota Zoo?

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The Minnesota Zoo has been involved in a Mexican Gray Wolf breeding and reintroduction program for some time now. Last I checked, it was not going well …. they were not having mush success in getting the wolves to produce offspring. I think they had some puppies in 2003, but I’m not sure of their status. The problem with at least some of their wolves is that they were born and raised in captivity. The “cultural” side of the reproductive process had been pruned from their lineage, so they kinda-sorta did things vaguely related to wolf-sex but that wasn’t enough.

Anyway, yesterday one of the wolves nosed its way through the fence of its enclosure, jumped over another fence and started prancing around among the visitors, so the zookeepers shot it to death. They say that tranquilizers were not an option. Apparently there were no other options either.

I’m not blaming the zoo for anything here, and in fact I’m not making any specific statements about anything …. just asking the question: Has the zoo’s role in reintroduction and survival of this small population of wolves been on balance positive, neutral, or negative? That question can’t easily be asked in terms of education. I’d be willing to bet that at the level of public education the zoo has had a very positive impact. I’m asking, specifically, about simple numbers. How many wolves have been in the zoo, how many have been released, that sort of thing.

A secondary question might be this: Shouldn’t there be a better strategy for dealing with an escaped wolf?

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8 thoughts on “So, what’s this about killing a wolf at the Minnesota Zoo?

  1. Of all the large wild animals in North America, wolves seem to be among the least likely to attack humans – if someone has data that contradict my impression, please share them. I’d have been much more worried if a mountain lion, American alligator, bison, javelina, black bear, or even a domestic horse stallion had escaped on the zoo grounds. The “shoot it, it’s a vicious wolf!” mentality reminds me of those ridiculous stories my Russlanddeutsche grandfather used to tell about the Old Country, in which wolves would attack and overturn wagons or sleighs, so that they could eat the babies and small children that tumbled out.

  2. Shoot, you are worried about them killing a wolf – they do that to people that are even less dangerous than wolves! A mentally disturbed guy with a gun was camping up in the backwoods where I bike. He made a camp in the middle of a tiny dirt road, which is hardly used. I chatted with him and he was quite friendly and was happy for me bike through his camp. Two days later a swat team of heavily armed male police troopers wearing masks, charged into his camp, fired some non lethal bullets (just the way you want to approach a schizophrenic to put him at his ease)so he ran with his gun into the bush where upon they shot him dead. To add insult to injury, they were awarded medals for valor. If they had asked me I would have walked in there unarmed and talked to the guy.

  3. Personally, I don’t know what to think. Tranquilizers can work extremely quickly, so I don’t buy the argument that they take too long. Maybe the zoo didn’t have any fast acting tranqs, but that’s a different position. Shooting a gun in an area in which people are present seems to be kind of fucking dangerous too.

  4. I think part of the problem is that wolves need the pack to teach them how to hunt. Raising wolves in captivity takes that away from the offspring.

    Also, habituated wolves are more likely to be dangerous to humans. Look for the study of Habituated Wolves in Alaska and Canada by Mark McNay. There is also another study of Habituated Wolves in Yellowstone.

    So my question is how the heck to they expect pen reared habituated wolves to survive in the wild (without attacking livestock and following school kids)?

  5. Wait. The wolf hadn’t done anything, it was just out among the humans? And they shot it?

    I can see shooting if the wolf is actually endangering others, or is on the attack. But… even then… tranquilizers. No need to KILL the poor thing.

  6. I’m not a veterinarian or field biologist or any other profession that would let me speak with actual authority on this topic. That said, I believe I have enough information to question some of the claims being made here.

    Wolves in the wild will avoid humans. Wolves wandering a zoo don’t have that luxury, and are in a very tense, unfamiliar, and unpredictable environment. It’s hardly *certain* that they’ll attack, but it’s a very significant possibility.

    “Fast acting” tranquilizers still take time to work. A wolf can cover a lot of ground in very little time, and right after the dart hits it’s going to be startled, disoriented, and in discomfort. Tranqs are great in wide open areas or secure enclosures, or for slow-moving and placid creatures. They’re not appropriate for large predators in confined spaces full of humans.

    Physical restraints (nets, catch poles, etc) can work. But they require cornering the animal, and “cornered animal” is a cliche for a reason. Again, this is a good option when the trained personnel attempting the capture are the only humans in the immediate area.

    The wolf can wander faster than the zoo can evacuate. There’s probably a much better than 50% chance that it would have just found a place to hunker down. It might very well have just walked back to its enclosure of its own accord, or else happily followed a zookeeper using bait. But there’s also a non-negligible chance it would’ve freaked out and taken down a toddler. Once it’s out, any attempt to contain or capture it that don’t succeed perfectly will very probably escalate its reaction.

    Once free, it posed a real and not easily controlled threat to the people present. The primary responsibility is to remove that threat. So it was dead as soon as it crossed the fence. In my mind the people who allowed the enclosure to fail are more responsible for killing it than the people who decided to shoot it or the ones who pulled the trigger.

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