Compound 1080 poisoning sparks search for killer of wolf 341F

The death of wolf 341F, the itinerant female that nearly two years ago wandered into Colorado only to be poisoned by Compound 1080, isn’t the first experience Western Colorado has had with that particular banned substance.

In 2001, approximately 30 dogs and cats and 35 birds were poisoned by 1080 in Grand Junction but police and federal investigators weren’t able to find the killer.

It eventually was reported that the poison was dumped into the city sewer system (most fish aren’t sensitive to the poison) and the case quickly grew cold, where it remains today.

It’s not likely the wolf killer will turn up soon, either.

Also known as sodium fluoroacetate and many other names, Compound 1080 is a naturally occurring derivative of plants in the Southern Hemisphere, where it initially was used as a rat poison.

Its reputation spread and soon it gained other uses. Livestock growers in Australia, New Zealand and across the West found 1080 highly effective against coyotes and other predators.

The poison is odorless, tasteless and water-soluble. Less than 1 ounce sprinkled on a sheep or cow carcass can kill numerous other animals, targeted and otherwise.

Livestock growers in Australia annually use an estimated 440 pounds of 1080.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 1-ounce serving potentially has enough lethal doses to kill up to 50 average-size humans (150-175 pounds each).

No antidote exists.

Compound 1080 was banned in 1972 along with other predator-control poisons using strychnine and sodium cyanide, but in 1985, after being pressured by livestock interests and the James Watt-led Department of the Interior, the EPA restored 1080 to limited use in so-called livestock protection collars.

Woolgrowers will tell you these collars are extremely effective at killing coyotes. The sheep wears the collar (with two bladders filled with a 1-percent 1080 solution), the coyote bites the collar, 1080 is released and the coyote dies within five hours.

But collars also can be ruptured by barbed wire, sharp sticks and other devices.

One study points out these collars routinely are lost and not found.

According to Wildlife Services, the predator-control arm of the U.S. Department of Agricultures, 1080 is permitted in nine states and Colorado isn’t among them.

Wildlife Services also says the secondary effects (such as when a scavenger feeds on a poisoned animal) are “low,” which doesn’t rule out secondary poisonings.

Author Francois Leydet in his 1988 book “Coyote: Defiant Songdog of the West,” reported that “tiny amounts (of 1080 are) effective: all you needed was sixteen grams, costing 28 cents, to treat 1,000 pounds of horsemeat, or enough, theoretically, to kill 11,428 coyotes at 1.4 ounces of bait meat per lethal dose.”

And it’s stable, said Leydet, being just as deadly in the spring as it was the previous fall when it was injected into a carcass.

It took the Fish and Wildlife Service nearly two years to announce wolf 341F was poisoned, something many people suspected after the investigation dragged into its second year.

“We found out relatively quickly that it was (poisoned by) Compound 1080,” said Steve Oberholtzer,  Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region.

“Over the next year we were doing an investigation trying to identify the responsible party but we haven’t yet been able to do that,” he said.

Oberholtzer said officers were unable to find evidence of traps, poison baits or other potential causes of death in the vicinity of the wolf carcass, nor were they able to find a definitive poisoning location.

He said numerous carcasses were investigated but no obvious illegal poisoned bait stations were discovered.

It points up the difficulty of ever finding the culprit, who under the Endangered Species Act at most faces a misdemeanor charge of up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Someone who used 1080 when it was legal still might have a can or two stashed away, and it’s not that hard to buy 1080 in New Mexico, one of the states where it remains legal to use.

And it’s not like 1080 poisoning is uncommon.

“We run into 1080 every once in a while,” Oberholtzer said. “I have investigated many, many poisoning cases in different parts of the country throughout my career.”

He said 1080 is used “fairly routinely” by Wildlife Services to poison marauding birds but 1080 also occasionally shows up after a neighbor’s pet gets poisoned.

“It usually doesn’t come to our attention until it kills a lot of birds or a neighbor’s pet,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t say it’s unusual or isolated to one part of the country.”

Oberholtzer is asking anyone with information regarding this wolf’s death to contact either the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Operation Game Thief hotline number at 877-265-6648 and/or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 720-981-2777.


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