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Follow the Pack Update, August 22, 2011

A Long Weekend in Mexican Wolf Country

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Follow the Pack recently spent a long weekend in the Mexican gray wolf recovery area. Late summer in eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico is the monsoon season. The weather is pleasantly cool, with rain showers almost every afternoon.

We camped on Saturday night in the home range of the Paradise Pack in Arizona. The pack consists of the nine-year-old alpha male, AM795, his six-year-old mate, AF1056, and five pups born earlier this year. We saw lots of cows…


...and wildflowers…


…and colorful mushrooms…,


…but not a single wolf or wolf track.

After a very damp night and a short hike on Sunday morning, we decided to move to New Mexico and look for signs of the San Mateo Pack. The alpha female of the San Mateo Pack, AF903, was born in the wild, most likely in 2003. She is now eight years old. Her mate, AM1157, was also born in the wild. He had his third birthday in April. Like the Paradise Pack, the San Mateo pair had at least five pups this spring.

We pitched our tent in a little valley among some ponderosa pine covered hills. Monsoon rains had resulted in a good growth of green grass. Elk, like two males with large racks of antlers that we saw as we drove to our campsite, had the grass all to themselves. As far as we could tell, there were no cows in the area to compete with the elk for the succulent grasses.

We crawled into our tent early to escape the rain. Sometime after midnight we awoke to the sound of hoof beats on the rocky hillside nearby. Could they be the footsteps of deer? Elk? It was too dark to see what sort of animals passed so close to us in the night. We solved the mystery the next morning, as we set off on a hike up the canyon. Just a short distance from our camp, we found fresh tracks of an adult elk and an elk calf crossing the muddy forest road.

As we continued on our hike we saw more good elk and wolf habitat…


…and a stock tank (known as a pond in many parts of the United States) filled to the brim with muddy water from the recent downpours…


…and more colorful mushrooms.


The most exciting thing we found, by far, was a long line of wolf tracks running straight down the road for at least a quarter of a mile.


The cloudy skies made it hard to take good photographs of tracks, but you can see that this wolf track is about 10.5 cm (over 4 inches) long and about 9 cm (about 3½ inches) wide. We were so excited to find tracks of at least one San Mateo wolf that we didn’t mind being soaked by a sudden, heavy shower on the hike back to camp.


Follow the Pack hopes to return to San Mateo territory in September or October, when the weather is not so wet and there’s a little chill in the air. When we do, we’ll report on what we find.

Follow the Pack updates are posted regularly in their own section-you can find the one above and previous updates here.