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“Kid Cages” Stir Up Irrational Fear of Wolf Attacks

“Kid Cages” Stir Up Irrational Fear of Wolf Attacks

It’s probably safe to say no one wants their children to get eaten by wolves. To ensure this doesn’t happen to their kids, people in the town of Reserve, N.M., have taken an extra (and arguably unnecessary) precaution by setting up “kid cages” at school bus stops to protect children from any impending attacks from endangered Mexican gray wolves who have been reintroduced to the area.

The cages were built years ago by a local school district and were recently highlighted in the film Wolves in Government Clothing. The film was created by David Spady, who, among other things, is the California director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that was co-founded by the infamous David Koch.

Conservationists and wolf advocates believe the cages are just more anti-wolf propaganda intended to instill fear and perpetuate misconceptions about wolves.

Daniel MacNulty, a professor of wildlife ecology at Utah State University who has been studying wolves for 18 years, told National Geographic that the idea wolves would attack children at bus stops “is fear-mongering and unhinged from the facts,” adding that children are more likely to be injured or killed “in an incident with an off-road all-terrain vehicle, or in an encounter with a feral dog, or in a hunting accident.”

I think the “kid cages” are a publicity stunt designed to stoke opposition to Mexican wolf recovery in general and to the federal government in particular. Why else would the anti-federalist group Americans for Prosperity be circulating photos and videos of the cages? I would be skeptical of any wolf-related information coming from this organization or its agents.

Maggie Dwire, a Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) told High Country News that no one has complained about wolves bothering school children and that if they had a team would have visited the area to determine if the animal reported were a wolf and whether it were watching children. If a wolf were caught posing a threat to safety it would be removed.

Anti-wolf propaganda that has hurt conservation efforts isn’t new. For wolves, this type of fear-mongering and intolerance is exactly what led to the bounty programs, trapping, poisoning, baiting and aerial gunning that nearly exterminated them in the first place. In some cases, they’ve become a scapegoat for anti-government groups, those who oppose the Endangered Species Act and ranchers who’ve come to believe that the public lands they’re leasing are their private property where wolves have no right to exist.

In other cases they’ve become victims of the myths spread by pro-hunting groups. In Utah, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife successfully convinced politicians to fork over $300,000 from the state’s general fund to lobby against wolves who don’t even exist in the state.

In this case, the timing is the real killer. While the FWS is about to throw gray wolves under the bus, it has proposed extending Endangered Species Act protections to Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico, which conservationists hope will expand the area they’re allowed to roam in and make it illegal to kill them.

Their population is estimated to be just 75 in the wild, which is still short of the goal of 100 that was set when the recovery plan was approved in 1982 and the first were released in Arizona in 1998. Since then, they’ve continued to face threats ranging from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases and natural disasters to conflicts with livestock and us humans – dozens have been shot and killed. As it stands now, any wolves who leave the recovery area and establish a new territory are captured and put back. Not only does this stop them from establishing new territories and moving between different populations, but captures can be traumatic and end in death.

Despite the kid cages and all the propaganda, residents still seem largely supportive of recovery efforts. A recent poll found that 87 percent of voters in both Arizona and New Mexico agree that “wolves are a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage,” while more than 80 percent in both states agree that “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should make every effort to help wolves recover and prevent extinction.”

Fortunately, there’s still time to speak up on behalf of wolves. The FWS has rescheduled public hearings that will be held in Colorado, New Mexico, California and Arizona through December and has extended the public comment period until December 17. You can submit a comment in support of wolf recovery efforts for gray wolves here and Mexican wolves here.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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176 comments

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8:04PM PST on Nov 30, 2013

Laura Bryant: I think ranchers should be banned and their so called "property" confiscated. They have not earned any rights.

12:25PM PST on Nov 26, 2013

ridiculous

4:46AM PST on Nov 16, 2013

Ignorrant people !

12:03PM PST on Nov 13, 2013

Absolutely there is evidence. And rancher type or not, I am not ignorant of the situation as you appear to be and also unwilling to look at the human incidents related to and documented within this program. As I said, 4 incidents of bus stop stalking, three incidents of horseback stalking one an adult two children, wolves defecating in barns, photographic evidence of all of it. Wolves killing dogs on private property sometimes at ranches sometimes not at ranches, and several direct fatal horse attacks. But then, turning a blind eye to the actual events that brought about the decision to place the shelters is a choice. It allows the actual evidence to be ignored. Admitting there was enough of a problem to be concerned would be tantamount to admitting FWS and their supporters in this program have no intention to mitigate those situations because it would impact their real agenda.

11:01AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Laura Bryant: presumably you are a rancher type - yet even in your self-justification: no evidence of attacks on humans. These wolves are in this predicament because of the actions of you and your forefathers encroaching on their territory, killing their prey species and then killing them when they transfer their attentions to the livestock you brought in in place of their proper food. You are the problem: you owe them the space to survive and your community needs to learn to live with them (and stop making up scare stories). You are privileged to share the same area and if you don't like it move to a town or city where the predators are far more dangerous because they are human.

9:46AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

I am more concerned about an attack from a human than I am from an animal, any animal. I know enough to respect them, to give them their distance, etc.

This is utter nonsense......................

8:27AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Finding it very interesting how when faced with the documented facts that Mexican wolves were behaving in incredibly habituated ways, when dogs were being attacked in yards, when 3 separate incidents at certain rural school bus stops were documented all of them involving rural but not ranch kids, when dogs were attacked at homes within sight of the kids, when two different packs bothered kids horseback and one horse killed in a barn attached corral after a dog was attacked within feet of another child who also was not a ranch child. I am not even talking about the encounters with adults. It seems all the environmental advocates can do is critique those who are taking responsibility for keeping a secure spot for the kids to step into in case of further incident. Folks you do not live here you do not deal with this program and it's lack of proper management, you don't know who is impacted you don't know how these animals raised in captivity are behaving and if the school system and parents want to give their kids some secure place to be, that can only help those animals in the long run. All you can do is spin the situation and try to appeal to the ignorance of the masses and blame the victims.

4:57AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Oh come on! I live in Australia (where there are no wolves) and even I know that wolves won't attack a person unless absolutely necessary or if they're attacked first so they're extremely unlikely to attack a GROUP of people even if that group is of children.

12:55AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Ya just can't fix stupid !!!!!

8:19PM PST on Nov 10, 2013

Hear me out in good faith; I am not your enemy:

Wolf attacks are not the stuff of fairytales, redneck-gun-nut propaganda, or lies. This tiny, cheap, reasonable solution: an simple, cheap, enhanced school bus stop shelter, is a good thing we should have; please stop making such a big deal out of it. In places where wolf and human territories overlap, wolf attacks are a cause for reasonable concern and reasonable precautions should be taken, because an attack would also be a disaster for the wolves, so if you care about them, please educate yourself and stop believing that a would would never hurt a person.

Read:
A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada by Mark E. McNay.
Rajpurohit, K.S. 1999. Child lifting: Wolves in Hazaribagh, India.
Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans by John Linnell, et. al.
Histoire du méchant loup : 3 000 attaques sur l'homme en France.Moriceau, Jean-Marc (2008).
Wolves in Russia: Anxiety throughout the ages. Graves, Will (2007).
Geist, Valerius. "Let's get real: beyond wolf advocacy, toward realistic policies for carnivore conservation".....

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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