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‘Natural’ Death of Reintroduced CO Wolf Likely Caused by Mountain Lion, Necropsy Shows

In a twist of fate, the hotly contested reintroduction of wolves in Colorado leads to one being killed by another hotly contested predator: a mountain lion.

Colorado WolvesThe 2023 Colorado wolf release; (photo/CPW)
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The gray wolf found dead last month was one of 10 released in Colorado in December. Rumors swirled about the likely cause of death, but until now, there was only speculation.

In a twist of hot-topic predator policy fate, it seems the likely cause of death to be mountain lion predation, authorities reported this week.

The wolf in question was found dead on April 18, 2024, just 4 months since the voter-mandated release. Initially, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Joe Szuszwalak said the initial investigation showed the wolf likely died of natural causes. Now that the necropsy has been completed, Szuszwalak was able to speak to those findings.

β€œThe initial necropsy report conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the deceased gray wolf found in Larimer County on April 18, 2024, finds that the cause of death is trauma, consistent with predation. Although not definitive, the puncture wounds in the skull are consistent with those typically inflicted by a mountain lion.” Szuszwalak said in an email to GearJunkie.

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Wolf Skull
Washington Wildlife biologist pointing out tell-tale mountain lion predation puncture marks on wolf skull; (photo/Washington Department of Wildlife)

This wouldn’t be the first recorded incident of wolves falling prey to mountain lions. Actually, quite the contrary. Mountain lions have been known to prey on wolves.

Washington has at least four recorded instances of confirmed mountain lion kills of collared wolves in recent years. With that number being known, it’s hard to know how many instances of uncollared wolves have fallen to cougar predation.

All of this comes at a time of heightened political discourse surrounding both species. Several states have begun looking at restructuring the hunting and management of both mountain lions and wolves, with Colorado being one of the most contentious in the debate. Hunting rights groups and animal rights groups have been at each other’s necks over the management versus protection of these species.

Several propositions for predator hunting bans have been or are currently in the works in Colorado, making this recent predation between these two apex predators an aptly timed one.

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