Out Among Wolves
by Jean Ossorio
In October 2004, I was camped alone in the home range of the Hawks Nest Pack of reintroduced Mexican wolves. A three inch snow had fallen overnight, covering the ground and weighing down the fly on my tent. When I awoke, a pinkish dawn light bathed the grassland and forest. Strange music drifted across the meadows from a ridge about a mile away—a chorus of minor arpeggios that sounded like neither coyotes nor lobos, but more like a choir of mourning doves on steroids.
As I tried to place the sound, an unmarked pickup truck with a radio antenna on top pulled up. The occupant, a slight fellow in jeans and a sweater, got out and hailed me with the words, “See any Mexican wolves?” He introduced himself as the local Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officer. Taking out his radio telemetry equipment, he quickly confirmed that we were listening to the Hawks Nest Pack alpha female, some pups, and lone wolf M795 (now the alpha male of the Paradise Pack), answering each other from their respective ridgetop locations
The law enforcement officer and I stood on the cold, snowy hill listening to the lupine conversation for over two hours, unable to break away from the magic of the moment. When we finally left, the animals were still conversing—whether about territorial boundary lines, pack gossip, or the peace and beauty of the morning, we’ll never know.
Over the past ten years I’ve seen twenty-five Mexican wolves in the wild, and heard a dozen more. The common thread in all those experiences is that you can’t will an encounter with wild lobos. The best you can do is study their locations and habits, look for tracks and scats, and then pitch your tent in a likely place. Make your bed, fix your supper, and sit quietly as the sun drops low over the horizon. If you are extremely lucky, the lobos will find you.
Last New Year’s weekend one lithe, long-legged member of the Luna Pack found us, just as the shadows lengthened across a snow-packed road in the Gila National Forest. My husband and I had finished putting the cooking gear away in our truck, when we looked down the road and saw an uncollared wolf gazing our way from a distance of 175 yards. She crossed the road and bounded off through the deep snow to the west. We soon heard several howls from the east and one from far off to the west. A few minutes later, the wolf reappeared, crossed to the east, and then back to the west, where she disappeared in the twilight. Twice more that night we heard counterpoint howls—once very close.
In the morning we found tangible evidence that our evening visitor was real. She had left her footprints in the snow along the road. As always when we find Mexican wolves in the wild, we felt deep gratitude that these beautiful animals, persecuted by our own kind until they nearly vanished from the earth, are home again.