Adjusting to life in the wild can be a daunting task for a Mexican gray wolf born in captivity. There is much to learn: how to kill wild prey, how to avoid vehicles on the highway, how to stay away from potentially dangerous humans, how to find water and suitable den sites. Mexican wolf M806 mastered all the necessary skills and managed to survive in the wild from his release on July 6, 2006, until his death on July 6, 2012. Few captive born lobos have been more successful.
M806, or Laredo, as he was known at the Wild Canid Center (now the Endangered Wolf Center) in Missouri, was one of eight tiny puppies in a litter born on April 25, 2003, to Anna (F685) and Prietito (M536). According to former Wild Canid executive director Susan Lindsey, growing up a large litter taught Laredo how to “negotiate” in order to get along in a pack—a talent that would serve him well as he made his way in the wild.
In October 2005, Laredo was moved to the pre-release facility for Mexican wolves at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM. He was paired with a female wolf, F838, in preparation for possible release. The pair bonded and produced a trio of pups in the spring of 2006. One male and one female pup survived.
Mexican wolf project personnel placed the family of four in a temporary mesh pen near Middle Mountain in the Arizona portion of the recovery area on July 6. The wolves, called the Meridian pack, chewed their way to freedom that same day.
Tragedy struck the pack almost immediately, when on July 14 the male pup was found dead of unknown causes. Then, in late September, AF838 was found shot to death by a bow hunter. Laredo and his remaining female pup began wandering, sometimes together, and sometimes separately.
During his wanderings, Laredo was involved in one of the funnier incidents in the history of the reintroduction, when he was implicated in a case of possible petty larceny. According to the project monthly update for November, 2006:
On November 30, the IFT received a report that a wolf observed in the area the day before may have carried off a hunter’s elk antlers that were stored next to his vehicle at camp. The hunter did not see a radio collar on the wolf. The following day, the IFT located AM806 of the Meridian pack in the area and searched for the antlers, but could not locate them.
I’ve always suspected that somewhere in the Apache National Forest, there’s a wolf den decorated with a nice rack of elk antlers on the wall.
By December 2006, Laredo had managed to make his way into the large, formidable Bluestem pack, whose alpha female, Estrella (AF521) had lost her original mate in June. Only a few weeks before Laredo joined the pack, the Bluestems had apparently caused the death of a yearling member of the San Mateo pack in an attack that took place in the San Mateo pack’s own home territory. The negotiating skills acquired in his large captive family may have helped M806 join the Bluestem pack without incident.
Laredo became Alpha Male 806 when he and Estrella became a mated pair, producing three surviving pups in 2007. They remained together in 2008, although they produced no more pups. In 2009 the aging Estrella left the pack. Laredo and one of Estrella’s daughters, F1042, mated, producing one living pup, mp1183. The pair remained together until Laredo’s death. They produced no pups in 2010, but in 2011, they raised two pups until the end of the year, despite the fact that the Wallow Fire burned through the area where they had denned. This year the field team has again confirmed the presence of pups with the Bluestem pack.
After a rocky start, Laredo found his place in the wild. He spent six of his nine years as a free, wild creature. His lone offspring from 2009, M1183, has established a pack of his own, the Maverick pack, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. One of Laredo’s pups from 2011 remains with AF1042, raising hopes that some of this year’s pups will survive.
Laredo died too soon, but his legacy lives on in the mountains and meadows of eastern Arizona.
Click here for the KUNM Radio news story about Laredo’s death.
Photo: Laredo, aka Mexican Wolf M806. Mexican Wolf Interagency Trail Camera Photo.