Image copyright Fiona Hughes
Los Angeles County authorities have shot and killed a grey wolf roaming the rugged mountains of Southern California.
The female wolf, dubbed Fiona, had been causing problems for ranchers in the area.
Environmentalists hailed the killing as an important precedent, arguing for the removal of her US classification from endangered to threatened.
But their critics described the killing as a “human rights issue”.
Fiona was discovered roaming the northern part of the San Bernardino Mountains in January. Since then, several wolf packs have been spotted in the area.
By the end of September, she had made her way south to the border state of Mexico.
Areas to the south of San Bernardino county (where she was killed) are populated with cattle. Although grey wolves have lived in the area for decades, ranch owners had been petitioning the government to take control of the packs and kill any unwanted wolves.
A California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said that the wolf had to be shot because she was “attacking livestock”.
Greenpeace’s “Grey Wolves are Wanted” twitter account shared pictures of the killing, which included a shot of the female wolf, surrounded by authorities. The caption said: “A healthy grey wolf population can help western states save their sacred landscapes, fighting climate change and produce a more diverse population of wildlife.”
While those behind the grey wolf’s death claimed it would have resulted in a “better environmental outcome”, wolf expert Andrew Derocher told the BBC that “calving sites” would still have been affected, even if Fiona had been killed.
The BBC’s Martijn Jacobsen spoke to a sceptical Michael Katzeir, president of the biannual wild land game management training group, which represents about half of all hunters and anglers in California.
He questioned whether the lethal killing of the wolf was necessary, saying a voluntary cull of wolves had been tried in Oregon and several ranchers had refused to take part.
“Ranchers aren’t going to put down their sheep if there’s a wolf in the area,” Mr Katzeir told BBC News.
Another source also expressed his doubts about the wolves’ “evils”.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Wolves carrying their young can be seen in the snow as they walk the mountain near a home near Albany in April 2018
Dr Rebecca O’Sullivan, a senior lecturer in ethology at Cardiff University, said “capture and relocation” was used instead.
“The fact that she had travelled far into Mexico means that at that point it would be unethical to remove her, there were humane means of de-listing her,” she told BBC News.
Dr Jane Cranwell, one of Fiona’s many supporters, pointed out that humans were not allowed to kill wolves for the same reasons.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s office received a letter on Saturday from a woman called Julie Villar, who objected to the killing and asked it to “fight for the rights of the grey wolf”, pointing out that wolves are used for farming and production.
She continued: “This should be considered a human rights issue because we all collectively own this land and if we didn’t, that would be part of the threat to our land,” according to the letter seen by BBC News.
Image copyright GCHQ Image caption The survival of the grey wolf is now under threat from the relocation of cubs to parts of America that lack ideal environments. Image caption Researchers believe this wildlife could live elsewhere in Europe, as well as California
Ranchers and environmental activists will be able to appeal the killing to the county commission. The time when wolves can be killed under this controversial Californian policy was defined in a law passed in 1996.
Farmers can also seek to have their livestock captured.
US politicians have proposed several laws and bills in the past two years to restrict the movement of wolves across the country.
However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service – which determines the native species’ classification – says there is no legal impediment to removing her (Fiona’s) classification.