PINETOP - Federal agents are investigating the suspicious death of an endangered Mexican gray wolf near Pinetop.
The female wolf was found on Jan. 19. It had died from a gunshot wound and was dumped along Highway 260.
The wolf was part of the Moonshine Pack in the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project in Arizona and New Mexico.
"Every wolf we have helped put back on the landscape deserves a chance to survive in the wild," Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Southwest region, said in a statement. "We feel confident that our investigations will identify the responsible parties and they will be brought to justice."
The Mexican wolf was exterminated in the wild in the Southwest by the 1930s. In 1998, the government began reintroducing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexico line in a 4 million acre-plus territory interspersed with forests, private land and towns.
Biologists had hoped to have at least 100 wolves in the wild by now; the population is estimated at around 50.
A recent conservation assessment of the Mexican gray wolf says that in the Southwest, the illegal killing of wolves is the single greatest source of deaths among the reintroduced population. Out of 62 wild wolf deaths documented between 1998 and July 2008, 28 were attributed to illegal shooting.
The area where the most recent dead wolf was found last week experienced heavy use over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, and authorities hope the public can help them solve the case.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife asks anyone with information to call 928-339-4232. A monetary reward is being offered.