Wolf News


Conservationists push feds for ‘commonsense’ changes in release of Mexican gray wolf pups

Originally published in the Arizona Daily Sun: https://azdailysun.com/news/local/conservationists-push-feds-for-commonsense-changes-in-release-of-mexican-gray-wolf-pups/article_215eab5e-33fc-11ef-8d3e-33ef4a9697ba.html

By ADRIAN SKABELUND Sun Staff Reporter

Conservation groups are pushing federal wildlife managers to change the way endangered Mexican gray wolves are released into the wild.

Last week, 18 conservation groups signed the support to a letter asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin releasing wolf pups into the wild alongside their parent wolves.

Since 2006, wildlife managers have primarily released pups by placing them with wild foster mothers that are raising their litters.

Just this year, wildlife managers celebrated a record number of Mexican wolf pups being placed with wild packs across New Mexico and eastern Arizona, all in the hopes of increasing the genetic diversity of the population.

But in a letter to federal wildlife managers, conservation groups say that strategy has not worked, and are now calling for the “commonsense” strategy of releasing pups and their bonded parents together. 

Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said new analysis of survival rates for foster pups shows that the effort has not been successful.

That analysis shows that of the 99 Mexican wolf pups that have been placed with foster packs, only 24 seemed to survive their first year.

That means 76% of the Mexican wolf pups placed with foster packs, often in April or May of each year, were not seen again the next spring after release.

That’s much lower than would be expected.

According to studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, about 50% of Mexican wolf pups born in the wild make it to their first birthday.

“It really is unfortunate, because every one of those pups — those ones that were recently released and those released in the past — had a tremendous potential to contribute to the population and to lead long lives. But for whatever reason, most of them aren’t actually contributing to the population, much less leading long lives,” Robinson told the Arizona Daily Sun.

Robinson said the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups have had concerns over the success of the program placing pups in foster packs for some time. But now, Robinson said, the data clearly shows that the program has not been altogether successful.

“When it’s 30 pups, 40 pups in the first few years cumulatively that were released, [you] still have some hope for some of these animals that weren’t seen in their first winter. They’re released in April and May, and there’s an intensive search and an intensive count for the first month and a half of each calendar year. So we had hope,” Robinson said. “But now we get to 2023, and we have 99 pups that have been released. That’s a really convenient number to do calculations with, and the fact is that only 24 of them were ever seen alive again.”

Robinson said they don’t have information on exactly why fostered pups have such a hard time surviving their first year, compared to those that are born in the wild.

The obvious explanation could be that many of them are not able to bond with foster packs.

“The obvious direction to look at is the connection between wolf mothers and their pups, and obviously when you take the pups from their mothers, there’s always the possibility that either the pups don’t adequately bond with the intended foster mothers, or conversely, that their not accepted into the litter by the foster mother or other members of the pack,” Robinson said.

Given the results they have observed, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said they are pushing wildlife managers to begin releasing pups alongside their bonded parents.

Bahr said that has been done in the past, but stopped in 2006 as the strategy for increasing the population’s genetic diversity shifted.

“We know that if well-bonded families of wolves are introduced, they do much better, and so that’s what we are asking for,” Bahr said. “We need to see more family packs released into the wild, and then we’ll also see more pups surviving in the wild as well.”

Indeed, wildlife managers found that when they released pups with their parents nearly two decades ago, six out of nine adult pairs released with their dependent pups into areas with adequate prey were successful.

“We’re asking them to look at their own information. Fish and Wildlife, look at your own information, you know that these animals are going to do better if you release these families of wolves. You know that it will better help genetic diversity,” Bahr said.

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