In rural Reserve, New Mexico, children wait for school buses inside boxy, wood-and-mesh structures that look like chicken coops. The “kid cages” are meant as protection from wolves. But are they even necessary?
Well, maybe the parents think they are. And, since it’s their kid, isn’t it up to them?
The issue is part of a long-simmering political debate, which recently came to a boil in the Southwest when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it wants the Endangered Species Act to cover about 75 Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
Conservative groups, which call wolves a threat to humans and livestock alike, say that would be government overreach. Wolf defenders, who cite the fact that no wolf attacks have been documented in New Mexico or Arizona, call the new kid cages a stunt.
And they worry that they are ‘demonising’ the wolves. Because, like joggers vs mountain lions in California, better a few of those dead than no ‘success story’ for the conservationists…
To understand the issue on scientific terms, we spoke with Daniel MacNulty, a wildlife-ecology professor at Utah State University who’s been studying wolves in Yellowstone National Park for the past 18 years.
Are they a meaningful threat? No. Is the probability of wolves hurting someone zero? No. Is it close to zero? Yes, very close.
I’ve no doubt he’s right, but ‘close to zero’ isn’t going to cut much ice with worried parents. Not when the solution is cheap and easy to put into place.
So, frankly, who cares how it looks to the conservationists?
Another thing to keep in mind: Mexican wolves are not very large—they weigh just 60 to 80 pounds.
Which, even in these days of ‘obesity panic’, is still a bit more than a ten year old. Not that it’s ever strictly a weight-to-power ratio anyway; Rambo outweighs a chimpanzee by a goodly margin, but would still have his arms ripped off.
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.
But we should implicitly trust the sort of people for whom chewed joggers and mauled kids are just small prices to pay for ‘the majesty of nature’?