As the birth site of the first Mexican wolves conceived and born in captivity from wild stock, the Endangered Wolf Center (founded in 1971 in St. Louis by Dr. Marlin Perkins) has a great deal at stake in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to change the rules governing the Mexican wolf reintroduction. The center is the birthplace of 172 Mexican wolf pups and has produced many of the wild Mexican wolves that have successfully transitioned back to their homeland.
Last year, a female pup born at the center was the 1,300th Mexican wolf born since the recovery effort started. Given that when the center started, there were only five Mexican wolves left in the wild, 1,300 is a remarkable accomplishment. Unfortunately, the wild population does not reflect this accomplishment. Only 83 Mexican wolves were found during the most recent official count, making them one of the most endangered animals in the world. This is unsustainable for many reasons, including from a captive breeding perspective.
The captive breeding program, although highly effective, is not a continuous or permanent solution for the recovery of an endangered species. Limited space throughout facilities in the United States and Mexico, which have been at maximum population capacity for several years, has hindered the program. With only one new successful release into the wild in the last five years, we can allow only a few pairs to breed annually for fear that we will have too many puppies and nowhere to put them. Reduced breeding in captivity means the loss of vital genetic information. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to introduce new genes into the wild is irresponsible management of an endangered species and will harm an already severely bottlenecked population.
Because of this, the Endangered Wolf Center supports the expansion of both the release area and the overall recovery area for the Mexican wolf and sees alternative No. 3 as the best option in the wildlife service proposal. This will allow more releases, which will help increase population numbers and improve the wild population’s genetic health. It will also open up breeding space in the captive program.
The current recovery plan is antiquated and in dire need of revision, as are elements of the proposed rule change. For example, capturing and removing wolves that naturally disperse outside of the arbitrarily designated area is counterproductive and illogical when it comes to sustaining the biological needs of a healthy population. The term nonessential means that if the wild population fails, the captive population can sustain the species. Maintaining this designation also limits protections for these critically endangered animals. This is a profoundly flawed approach.
The recovery plan and the Mexican wolf need support. If what we get instead is a service more interested in maintaining the status quo than in stepping up to the task, then sometime soon, there may not be a species left to recover.
Regina Mossotti is the director of animal care and conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis. The center, which was founded in 1971 by Marlin Perkins, routinely represents the largest holder of Mexican wolves in captivity and is formerly known as the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center. Learn more about the EWC at endangeredwolfcenter.org.
Do you want a future with wolves?
ACT NOW! Endangered Mexican Wolves Need Your Help!
Submit a letter to the editor responding to this Guest Column, and influence decision-makers and thousands of your fellow citizens.Tips and talking points are below, but please write in your own words, from your own experience. Don’t try to include all the talking points in your letter.
With fewer than 90 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, US Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to make changes that could push them closer to extinction or finally help them thrive. The decision will be made in the next few months and they need to hear from you!
- Start by thanking the paper for publishing this Guest Column.
- Wolves once lived throughout Arizona and New Mexico and played a critical role in keeping the balance of nature in place. The Mohave County Supervisors should be supporting the restoration of this important animal that has been missing for too long.
- Wolves need freedom from boundaries. Under the current rule, Mexican wolves are trapped if they go outside the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The USFWS proposal does not propose to reintroduce wolves into new areas, but rather to allow them to roam throughout a larger area. The wolves will establish themselves in suitable areas with adequate game. They will naturally avoid places with high densities of humans and low prey availability. USFWS must change the rules that do not allow wolves to establish new packs and populations in additional areas that are essential to their recovery.
- Polling has shown repeatedly that the vast majority of Arizonans support wolf recovery. An ever-growing body of research shows that wolves are key to restoring wild places, and wolf-related tourism can bring significant income into communities. Mohave County's Supervisors are acting against the best interests of their constituents when they oppose Mexican wolf recovery.
- People who care about wolves have an important opportunity to speak out for their recovery through September 23, 2014.Comments can be submitted electronically here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R2-ES-2013-0056-6056. More information can be found at mexicanwolves.org.
- USFWS should not allow more killing of critically endangered wolves. The draft proposal will push Mexican gray wolves towards extinction by allowing many more of them to be killed under all kinds of justifications. With fewer than 90 in the wild, every wolf is important. These native lobos need more protections, not less.
Make sure you:
- Additional populations of Mexican wolves north of I-40 are necessary to their recovery and genetic health, as is the ability for wolves to move between populations. Capturing and moving wolves because they roam beyond an artificial boundary is always a risky business that can result in death or trauma to the wolf.
- Thank the paper for publishing the Guest Column.
- Keep your letter brief, between 150-300 words.
- Make your letter personal. Don't be afraid to use humor or personal stories. Include something about who you are and why you care: E.g. “I am a mother, outdoors person, teacher, business owner, scientific, religious, etc.”
- Provide your name, address, phone number and address. The paper won’t publish these, but they want to know you are who you say you are.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE USFWS PROPOSAL
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Photo credit: Endangered Wolf Center