MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three days after Minnesota Zoo handlers shot and killed an endangered wolf that escaped its enclosure, officials are still defending their actions to residents who wonder why the wolf couldn’t just have been tranquilized.

Zoo staff said they were still answering emails asking why the 8-year-old Mexican gray wolf was killed instead of incapacitated and returned to its exhibit. At least one other wildlife expert wondered why zoo officials couldn’t find a nonlethal way to deal with the situation Wednesday.

Peggy Callahan, the executive director of the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, said an incident last year proved that lethal methods weren’t always necessary. She said a Mexican gray wolf ran loose in the north metropolitan area but police, assured by Callahan’s group that the wolf didn’t pose a public threat, waited days for just the right moment to capture it.

“I think we handled it better than they did,” Callahan said of zoo staff. She said they could have moved all visitors into buildings so the wolf could be cornered and tranquilized.

The problem, zoo handlers said, was that this wolf had made its way to a public path on the zoo grounds. Zoo staff shot and killed it to assure public safety, said Tony Fisher, the zoo’s animal collection manager.

“We did our job, and we did it according to pre-approved policies,” he said.

The problem with tranquilizers, zoo officials said, it that they can take up to 15 minutes to work, and they can also make an animal aggressive.

Lori Schmidt, a curator at the International Wolf Center in Ely, agrees that tranquilizers aren’t a perfect answer, especially when public safety is involved.

“Drugging is not an exact science,” she said.

Schmidt, who manages a facility with five wolves, said she makes sure the animals can’t dig, wiggle or jump out of their enclosures. That becomes a challenge when they’re drawn to an animal carcass or another wolf pack.

The Minnesota Zoo wolf was likely enticed to escape.

Zoo staff believe the wolf was chasing two wolves that were brought in from a flooded zoo in North Dakota. Pursuing them may have motivated the wolf to slip through a gap in a holding-area fence into a secondary enclosure.

Zoo staff planned to tranquilize the wolf there, but Fisher said staff decided to shoot it after it jumped an 8-foot fence into the public area.

“We don’t want to create the impression that all wolves are bad, and all wolves need to be shot,” Fisher said. “We’re a conservation organization and that’s not the message that we want to get out there. This wasn’t a wild wolf. This was a captive wolf.”

Unlike wolves raised in the wild, captive wolves have less fear of people, Fisher said. They’re more likely to get closer to people, and could turn aggressive if cornered, he said.

New Brighton police said they didn’t believe the public was ever in danger.

Even so, Callahan said she was worried about losing an animal whose numbers were already dangerously low. A St. Paul Pioneer Press report says there are an estimated 50 Mexican gray wolves in the wild and about 300 in captivity.

“There are so few of them,” she said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (27)
  1. Barney says:

    All we need is one bite from the wolf and the howling would come from the same people who are now howling about “that poor wolf.” Zoo personnel care for their charges, both animal and human. They did what was best. Congratulations to them and thanks for that!

    1. mkhenry says:

      Agreed, And although I love animals, it amazes me when people get up in arms about the death of one , but yet turn their heads when a young person is shot and killed on the north side.

    2. Patrick says:

      This is the third article about this and I keep saying the same thing. After destroying it’s habitat and pushing it to endangered status human animals put this fellow creature in a poorly maintained cage and charged admission to see it. When it escaped it had a hole blasted through after eight minutes. A lone wolf would have been running scared and posed little threat. Quite frankly it’s humans that are the real threat here. A threat to this wolf, it’s species, and nearly every other species. The animal deserved far more effort and yes, even the tiny risk to the over populated and enviornmentaly destructive human animals was acceptable. They bought tickets to see captured animals they should accept the risk. Props to the zoo for any good work they do but this was handled poorly and I will not be visiting the zoo any more and encourage others to take a stand as well. Other animals are not here for your amusement.

  2. Ralph says:

    Is this the same wolf that got out of the MN zoo a couple days ago and they knew it escaped? How did it get to new brighton ??????????????

    1. Really? says:

      I agree, what do New Brighton Police have to do with this story? Without being there how can anyone criticize the zoo staff decision. Had a person been bitten, the public would have been all over them

      1. New editor needed? says:

        I think that sentence was placed in the wrong part of the article–it was New Brighton Police who waited a few days on the other wolf mentioned in the article. Bad editing!

  3. Endangered @ The Zoo says:

    If the zoo couldn’t do their job they should have called the local dog catcher.

    1. WI Zoo Staffer says:

      Dog Catcher? Really? This wasn’t a poodle or a Collie, it was a Wolf. Meat eating, outside living, very little direct human contact animal. Not one that you feed Kibble to and cuddle with on the couch.

  4. Mike says:

    The zoo staff who are responsible for this incident continue their reasoning for an inexcusable tragedy. I have never heard of a lone wolf causing mayhem in or outside a zoo. They travel in packs and that is how they hunt. A single wolf outside it’s shelter fears more then it hunts. Their was a remote possibility this wolf would have attacked if cornered, but it was cowering when it was killed. The zoo staff who ordered this killing did so because it was the easiest way to cover their mistake and inability to respond appropriately or manage the animals they are to protect. Sad, but true.

    1. Citizen says:

      The cowering was the wolf’s way of saying he was submitting–giving in. He was afraid. It is the wolf posture of asking for forgiveness. So we killed it.

      1. WI Zoo Staffer says:

        Where in the story do you ever see the word cowering? From people I have talked with that work at the zoo the wolf was standing looking right at the member of the capture team. Not laying down or cowering with its tail between its legs… Look at the photo from previous stories. It sure doesn’t look scared while it trotted right down the public pathway! (Pathway full of mall children I might add)

  5. Sgt says:

    3 Cheers for the Minnesota Zoo Staff!! They did the right thing, if anybody was hurt by this wolf, the zoo would be wild open to a lawsuit.

    1. Endangered @ The Zoo says:

      Chinese Cheers,
      Ah Phooey, Ah Phooey, Ah Phooey

  6. Patrick says:

    “Wild open”? BTW – “Sgt”- Do you handle all your problems by shooting them?

  7. Peggy says:

    Are you kidding me? “Congratulations” and “3 Cheers”????? An innocent animal was killed. What’s to celebrate?????

  8. nature lover says:

    the zoo is filled with children im glad they shot it, they saved a childs life, great respone to the situation and i will feel safer being there, today a wolf tomarrow a elephant

  9. crazy world says:

    read this story,Live Dogs and Cats Used as Bait to Hunt Sharks in the Indian Ocean, and you will forget about the wolf.

  10. WI Zoo Staffer says:

    The zoo did the right thing all things considered. I have worked in the zoological industry for many years and think they acted swiftly and properly. You people keep saying “the wolf was just scared”… Have you ever seen a scared frightened animal out of what it thinks is its “natural environment”? If you cornered a collie in a area it wasn’t familiar with it could very easily become aggressive. NOT to mention the MN Zoo has in the past released 2 of these exact species of wolves captive born to the wild. The MN Zoo is an amazing facility, filled with amazing staff that care for their animals very much. The LAST thing they would want to do is put down one of their animals. NO Zoo wants to do that. From private accounts I have heard, the public was not evacuating quickly, more people were standing around than going to the safe buildings the Zoo staff were directing them to and that is why they made the call to put the animal down. We’re talking about a 80lb Carnivore here people, not a fluffy bunny, not a domesticated dog that obeys commands. Its a WOLF!

    MN Zoo I am sorry to hear about your loss, My entire facility appreciates the work you do and are even more sorry that you have to put up with people that have no clue what actually happened bombarding you with blame/guilt over this traumatic experience. Best wishes, and keep up the good work.

    As for the rest of you Couch jockey, pot stirring, clueless people. Go find something else to exploit and blog about just so you can see your text on the internet.

  11. trl the alligator says:

    what a bunch of BS….that wolf had already shown that it WAS NOT aggressive towards people as it had rambled by several within feet and just kept on going without even a gaze at them, this killing was unwarranted and an over reaction in the extreme. They also killed a protected species to “just be on the safe side” which falls far short of an excusable killing and as such should be prosecuted for breaking a federal law…..there is no justification for what they did…..NONE……and this family will never go back to that zoo again in protest.

    1. WI Zoo Staffer says:

      I’m sure the Zoo will suffer from your family protest… It wasn’t aggressive the first 8 min it was out. What if it had been cornered and a 4 year old kid went up to “pet the puppy” Safe side of HUMAN protection yes. You can look at this from 20 different sides, ANYthinig the zoo would have chosen would have been the “wrong thing to do” from somebodys point of view.

      1. Citizen of Minnesota says:

        As far as I’m concerned, the Minnesota zoo is now trying to do CYA because of a knee jerk reaction to the wolf getting loose through negligence (there was damage to the enclosure from the winter–it’s now June). I also think there was no tranquilizer dart available or trained staff to shoot it. All I read are excuses and more excuses. Since this was a very endangered species all due diligence should have been done to save it. Frankly, I stopped taking my family to the Minnesota Zoo after it killed the one beluga whale because it could not deal with its environmental concerns and infections because of the simulated salt water. The Zoo then was too concerned with revenue and keeping the whale on exhibit rather than what was best for the whale.

  12. all God's creatures says:

    Have a loaded rifle ready along with a a tranquilizer, which should have been tried first. And No, I don’t have much sympathy for the human race who should know better, but chooses to shoot their own out of stupidity in North Minneapolis, or any other area that is criminally out of control.

    1. WI Zoo Staffer says:

      People dont realize that Tranquilizer “darts” are not something you can just have “sitting around” it is a drug, too much of the drug and you’ll kill the animal, to little it wont work. The dosing depends on the animals weight, what kinda of animal it is, what size dart to physically use, not to mention the drug itself is very dangerous. The Zoo DID have a tranquilizer gun there and they didnt use it for a reason. AS STATED IN THE STORY above! and what part of “takes time to work” dont you understand. That wolf could have ran flat out for 10 min with a dart hanging out of it, now pissed off because it was shot with the dart, and NOW its aggressive. There is no doubt in my mind that they made the right call. If that happened here at my facility I’d tell my team to do the EXACT same thing.

      Risking human life? CYA, not really, common sense.

  13. E says:

    Thats Minnesota idiocy as usual. Every other State authorities manage to tranquilize any number of potentially dangerous animals even in high density areas, but Minnesota always finds an excuse to kill. Your State need to retrain the workers in Zoo, DNR and Police in these areas…yesterday.

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