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In the News: Reader View: Kids understand importance of wolves

Santa Fe New Mexican, March 22, 2014

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by Paula Nixon

About this time last year, students (kindergarten through eighth grade) submitted drawings and essays along with ideas for names to Lobos of the Southwest for the first annual Mexican wolf pup naming contest. Ninety entries came in from New Mexico, Arizona and places as far away as Pennsylvania and Italy. The kids got out their pencils and crayons and imagined the life of a wolf, and came up with names such as Little Wild and Huckleberry.

Newborn wolves look like German shepherd puppies. Born in the spring, they are helpless. Eyes closed, they stay in the den with their mother, the alpha female, whose mate brings food to her.

Within a few weeks the pups are toddling around, but staying close to the den, getting to know the other pack members, who bring them food and babysit while their mother goes out to hunt. By late summer the newest members of the pack are big enough and strong enough to follow the adults.

They run and hunt with their family pack for several months, sometimes until they are 2 or 3 years old.

Pups named in last year’s contest were born in the wild in 2012, part of the Mexican gray wolf recovery project. In the late summer or early fall, the field team that monitors and manages the wolf population trapped the pups and assigned each one a studbook number so they could be identified and tracked. Fifteen pups had been outfitted with radio collars by the time the contest started, and each got a name.

I have copies of two of the winning entries hanging above my desk: Clover and Keeper, born just about two years ago.
Clover was named by fourth-grader Gypsie G., for the good luck that it brings to itself and others. The female pup, f1280, was born to the Bluestem Pack. Late last year she began to travel separately from her pack with AM1038, an alpha male whose mate had been killed illegally. Clover is now considered part of his pack, the Hawk’s Nest, and soon the field team will be able to tell if she is traveling less, spending more time in one area, preparing a den for the birth of a litter.

Keeper, male wolf m1277, also of the Bluestem Pack, was named by Turner B., a third-grader. The wolf in Turner’s drawing looks serious and includes this, “I didn’t want to make him look cute because there is nothing cute about the idea of extinction.” Turner has a Facebook page called Kids for Wolves, dedicated to saving wolves, and when Keeper was found dead, shot illegally in December, he wrote, “I am so sad.” He also called for action with letters to the secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, urging that the laws protecting the wolves from illegal killing be more strictly enforced.

All of us, kids and adults alike, can do what Turner did and write letters supporting the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf in its historic habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments about proposed changes to the listing of the endangered wolves through Thursday at fws.gov. Addresses and phone numbers for members of Congress and other government officials can be found at usa.gov. It only takes a few moments.

Let’s make sure that Turner and Gypsie and all of our kids might, on a dark and quiet evening, hear the distant howls of Clover and her pups.

Paula Nixon is a freelance writer who has lived in Santa Fe for 16 years and blogs at www.paulanixon.com.

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