Raising Them Wild
A Visit to the Captive Breeding Center that Started it All.
by Susan Lyndaker Lindsey, Ph.D.
Forested hillsides full of raccoons, turkey, deer and rodents. Ponds that occasionally host nesting ducks or are covered with ice. Large family packs of wolves cooperatively hunting small game, feeding on deer, howling, rearing successive generations of young destined to repopulate the Southwest.
This is the reality of a captive breeding facility that not only took in the small remnant population of wild Mexican gray wolves but became the birth site of the first lobos conceived and born in captivity from wild stock. This is the captive breeding facility that produced many of the wolves that have successfully transitioned back to their homeland—wolves that hunt appropriate prey, avoid people, and raise their young in family packs the way that they were raised while still in their temporary home.
Once a week the enclosures are cleaned. Two women enter and work their way around the acreage in a circular pattern. The wolf pack of twenty watches warily and moves ahead of the women, staying as far way from them as the acreage will allow. These are the wolves reared in a captive breeding facility. They do not trust or approach people. They take what help the people offer but prefer to be left alone to live the lives of wolves.
Annually the wolves are captured for veterinary checks—they send up alarm howls when the veterinarian reaches the gate of the facility several miles away. They howl again as the staff enter the capture equipment shed. They avoid the capture team as it enters their large enclosure. Their natural avoidance of people is used to move them into smaller sub enclosures. The target wolf cowers while approached by three women. It is pinned down while the veterinarian gives it inoculations and takes a blood sample—then the wolf is released.
The wolf waits for a moment, giving a sideways glance toward the staff members. Is this a trick or an opportunity? Away the wolf races into the hills of its temporary home. Later it rolls to remove the unwanted human scent.
The wolves of the captive breeding facility are wary of the humans who provide food and water but also bring the pain of inoculations, confinement, and separation from their wolf family. The wolves use their legs to run, to avoid, and to hide. They howl in reunion and rejoice when the people leave. The hillsides belong to the wolves again.
This is a captive breeding facility. A halfway home to freedom. Here is where lobos recovered in numbers sufficient to begin their return to wild lives in the homeland of their ancestors. This is a captive breeding facility rearing wolves that distrust and avoid people, that know how to hunt, that have lived in large multi-generational family packs. This is a captive breeding facility whose wolves have successfully made the transition to free-roaming wild lives again and again, hunting appropriate prey, avoiding their nemesis—people, and surviving to rear their young who strive to repopulate the Southwest. This is the Endangered Wolf Center.
The first litter conceived and born in captivity was fathered by Don Diego. His son Francisco fathered the male pups that led the Campbell Blue and Hawks Nest packs to freedom. Francisco’s sons and daughters would lead the packs that would follow in later months and years. Today all packs trace back to the hillsides of Wild Canid at least through their ancestors, if they themselves were not born there.
I held the pups for their pup checks while their father alarm howled for the hills to hear. I saw those pups grow up stalking and hunting with their father in their large family packs. I watched those pups chase pieces of ice across a frozen pond while their parents looked on with expressions that could only be interpreted as amusement. I heard the parents howl the nights after we shipped out those grown pups to lead the way back to a truly wild life. These are the wolves of Wild Canid; these are the wolves of the Southwest.
Author’s Note: A wildlife biologist and behaviorist by training, I greatly value the contributions of all of the captive breeding facilities of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan and the willingness of all cooperators to think of the species above all else. With their steadfast commitment to the quality of the releasable wolves they rear, the lobo will make a successful recovery in our lifetimes, if we will only give them the support they require in the wild—space, time, and seclusion.