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In the News: Experiment aims to help Mexican gray wolf pups

Associated Press, 5/27/14 (posted 6/7/14)

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By Susan Montoya Bryan / The Associated Press

With threats of disease, malnutrition and even inbreeding, the deck can be stacked against a Mexican gray wolf pup.

Federal wildlife managers have long been troubled by the survival rates of wild-born pups, so they’ve started experimenting in an effort to boost the population as they reintroduce the endangered predator to the American Southwest.

Biologists earlier this month transplanted a pair of 2-week-old pups born in a large litter to another pack of wolves with a smaller litter and more rearing experience.

The cross-fostering technique has worked with red wolves on the East Coast. This marks the first time it’s being tried with Mexican gray wolves.

Benjamin Tuggle, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, said the goal is not only to grow the population, but also to have wolves that are genetically diverse and can steer clear of trouble while living in the wild.
“Cross-fostering is just one of the management tools we can use to improve the genetic health of the wild population,” he said.

Reintroducing Mexican wolves to the forests of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona has been a challenge. The 15-year effort has been hampered by everything from illegal shootings to court disputes over how the program should be managed. Ranchers and county officials throughout the region have also been vocal critics, saying the wolves threaten their livelihoods.

The Fish and Wildlife Service over the past year has been careful about choosing which wolves to pair together, when to pair them up and where to release them.

The pups being cross-fostered were the result of one of the agency’s match-making efforts earlier this spring. Their parents were released in Arizona together in April, but separated soon after. The female established a den and had a total of six pups in early May.

Since the female had no previous experience in the wild and no mate to help her with hunting and rearing, biologists determined the pups would not likely survive.

The female and four of her pups were taken into captivity, where they were reintroduced to another male in hopes of them forming a pack that can be released into the wild later this year.

As for the two foster pups and their wild pack, biologists are monitoring them remotely through radio telemetry signals as to not disturb them. Officials say it will be some time before they know whether the experiment was successful.

This article was published in the Albuquerque Journal.

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Please submit a letter to the Editor on behalf of endangered Mexican gray wolves!


One letter from you can reach thousands of people and will also likely be read by decision-makers.  Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.

Talking points

  • Start by thanking the paper for the article.
  • Cross fostering of pups, if successful, could help improve the wild population's genetics, but the USFWS must do much more, now, to provide Mexican wolves with needed genetic rescue.
  • First and foremost, USFWS should move forward with allowing new wolves to be released throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered mammal in the U.S. with only about 83 in the wild.  Additional wolves must be released into the wild now to increase the genetic health of the species. Numerous wolves are in captive breeding facilities around the country, prepared for, and awaiting, release.
  • Wolves once lived throughout New Mexico and Arizona and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. We need to restore this important animal that has been missing for too long.
  • Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Given room to roam, the wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf. Current and proposed rules do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
  • Additional populations of Mexican wolves are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations.
  • The USFWS should designate Mexican gray wolves as essential. By labeling all of the wild wolves as “nonessential” the USFWS ignores science and the reality of 16 years of experience with reintroducing wolves.  The 83 wolves in the wild have up to four generations of experience in establishing packs and raising pups and are over 22% of all of the Mexican wolves in the world.  The fourth generation wild lobos are not expendable and are essential to recovering this unique subspecies of wolf.
  • The USFWS needs to quit stalling and complete a comprehensive recovery plan.USFWS admits that their 1982 recovery plan is not scientifically sound and does not meet current legal requirements – yet in its proposed rule USFWS continues to emphasize a woefully inadequate population of only 100 wolves in the wild, which was never supposed to be a recovery objective.
  • Scientists say far more wolves are needed for the Mexican gray wolf to achieve recovery. US Fish and Wildlife Service must change the rules to allow new releases throughout the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area as scientists have urged them to do for years.
  • Wolves are a benefit to the West and are essential to restoring the balance of nature. Wildlife biologists believe that Mexican wolves will improve the overall health of the Southwest and its rivers and streams – just as the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone has helped restore balance to its lands and waters.
  • A recent poll shows 80% of New Mexico voters and 83% of Arizona voters support Mexican wolf recovery. Polling also shows overwhelming support – 73% in New Mexico and 81% in Arizona  – for restoring wolves in the Grand Canyon region (northern AZ and southern UT) and the Southern Rockies (in southern CO and northern NM), areas of suitable habitat that scientists say are vital for the wolves to recover.
  • Mexican gray wolves are unique native animals. They are the rarest, most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America and the most endangered wolf in the world.
  • Wolves generate economic benefits - a University of Montana study found that visitors who come to see wolves in Yellowstone contribute roughly $35.5 million annually to the regional economy.
Make sure you:
  • Thank the paper for publishing this article.
  • Keep your letter short (less than 250 words).
  • Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.)
  • Provide your name, address, phone number and address.  The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
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