By Josephine Marcotty
Photo: Mexican gray wolf, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Only to protect itself, according to David Mech, a leading wolf researcher.
“That animal wouldn’t have been dangerous, period,” he said today. “Think of it in terms of whether a fox got loose.”
Still, he would not second guess the zoo’s decision to kill it. The zoo had to create the perception that it had done everything possible to protect the public — even if the public didn’t really need protecting. The myth that wolves in North America are dangerous to people is one of the most enduring of all, said Mech, a wolf researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey and vice chair of the International Wolf Center in Ely.
“They were protecting themselves from the perception and the insurance and so many other things. It would have looked pretty bad if the wolf got out of the zoo and caused a big fuss around town. But I don’t think there was any risk to anyone,” he said.
The media attention around the whole affair only perpetuated the unfounded fear that the animal was dangerous.
“You’d think it was a man eating tiger or a lion,” he said. “The poor thing was probably scared to death.”
The eight-year-old male wolf had lived its life in captivity. That would make it even less of threat than a wild one.
The good news is that the death of the wolf will have little impact on the species. There are now only about 50 of them in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, their natural home. There are probably more in captivity, thanks to efforts to keep the species alive.