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In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is a gray wolf, the species that would lose federal protection in most of the Lower 48 states under a proposal made in June 2013 by wildlife officials. A Mexican wolf -- an endangered subspecies of the gray wolf -- was recently found shot and killed in southwestern New Mexico. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The effort to return the endangered Mexican gray wolf to the American Southwest has hit another stumbling block.

Federal and state wildlife officials confirmed that a female wolf that was released into the wild in early May was found dead in late June in southwestern New Mexico.

The animal had been shot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had hoped the wolf and her male partner would be able to establish a new pack in the Gila Wilderness. The male was recaptured several days after their release and it's believed the pair's pups did not survive, leaving the female to roam.

Top agency officials have long identified illegal shootings as one of the reintroduction program's biggest hurdles.

The agency has been trying since 1998 to establish a population of the wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.

Associated Press,

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