Far too often, people charged with illegally killing a wolf claim that they thought they were shooting a coyote. The man who shot the first wolf to reach the Grand Canyon, for example, made such a claim.
The US Justice Department's McKittrick policy provides strong motivation to claim mistaken identity even if that was not the case. The policy prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless attorneys can prove that the killers knew they were targeting a protected animal.
Yet, there are times when a person honestly thinks he is shooting at a coyote but is really aiming at a wolf. Is there a way to reduce the number of wolves killed by mistake?
That's the subject of a recent paper - "When Shooting a Coyote Kills a Wolf: Mistaken Identity or Misguided Management?" - published in the international journal Biodiversity and Conservation by Thomas Newsome, Jeremy Bruskotter, and William Ripple, The authors' statistics on illegal killing are shocking:
- Of the 711 radio-collared grey wolves that died in the western US between 1982 and 2004, 12 percent were killed illegally.
- Of all the red wolves that have died to date, 25 percent of them fell to illegal shooting.
- For Mexican wolves, illegal killing accounts for about 55 percent of all deaths from 1998 to 2013.
These are just the deaths that researchers know about. The count does not include what could be a large number of wolves killed secretly by those who believe in "shoot, shovel, and shut up."