Orphaned Wolves Lost in Idaho

State wildlife officials in Idaho have killed a pair of wolves that had been considered "problem animals." They left the pair's newborn pups to fend for themselves. A follow-up search for the pups has failed to find them.

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And, when wolves were reintroduced into Idaho eleven years ago, a deal was struck. The ones who ate livestock could be killed.

But when a federal trapper killed a pair of adult wolves and left their pups behind, that was a mistake. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has the story.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

When Suzanne Stone(ph) learned that five wolf pups had been orphaned, she drove from Boise to the Sawtooth National Forest to try to save them.

Ms. SUZANNE STONE (Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho): Eight-week-old wolf puppies cannot survive on their own. They either starve to death or they become prey for other predators.

SHOGREN: Stone hiked into the backcountry to search for the pups.

Ms. STONE: We would stop every few hundred yards or so and do kind of a muffled howl, a lower howl, and then a little bit louder, in hopes that the pups would respond back to us: especially if they were hiding at that point and still alive.

SHOGREN: Years ago, a wolf biologist taught Stone how to howl.

(Soundbite of Suzanne Stone doing wolf howl)

SHOGREN: She kept hiking and howling until dark, but the wolf pups didn't respond.

Stone represents Defenders of Wildlife, in Idaho. She understands that some wolves that eat livestock may have to be killed. But Stone says leaving the pups on their own was a new low for government wildlife managers.

Ms. STONE: This was a, you know, miserable way that these animals ended up being handled.

SHOGREN: The wolves are still a federally protected species, but because they're thriving in Idaho, the federal government put the state in charge of them in January. Stone worries that the move is eroding protections for wolves.

Ms. STONE: It's a signal to us that there's something slipping here and that we need to make sure that wolf conservation is maintained at the same standards that we've had in the past, even though the state is now responsible for managing wolves.

Mr. STEVE NETTO(ph) (Idaho State Conservation Official): We recommend as humane a treatment of these animals as unfortunately mistakes happen.

SHOGREN: In Idaho, Steve Netto is the state official in charge of managing wolves. He ordered the wolves, including the five pups, to be killed. But he says, the federal trapper who carried out the order was supposed to find the pups first and kill them humanely.

Wildlife experts say, without the parents alive to lead the trappers to the pups, it's almost impossible to find them.

Netto says it's important to remember, that wolves have been reproducing so well in Idaho, that there are 600 of them in the state.

Mr. NETTO: The regrettable loss of a few pups does not have any real biological impact on the recovery and long-term viability of this population.

SHOGREN: Gail Kern(ph) is a spokeswoman for Wildlife Services, the federal agency that killed the wolves. She says two weeks after the parents were killed the agency still has people looking for the pups.

Ms. GAIL KERN (spokeswoman for Wildlife Services, Idaho): They've been looking for tracks, they've been howling to try to call the wolf pups in, and they've had dogs out in the area to try to sniff out the pups, and they've just been unsuccessful, unfortunately.

SHOGREN: Wolf experts say it's very unlikely that the pups are still alive after two weeks on their own.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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