For Immediate Release: June 5, 2015
One Million Facebook Supporters Rooting for Tiny Southwest Population of Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves
Social Media Creates World-wide Movement to Save the Lobo
FLAGSTAFF, A.Z. — This week, the number of supporters on the Mexican gray wolves Facebook page passed the one million mark. When the page launched in 2009, the wild population of these highly endangered wolves, also known as lobos, had declined to its lowest numbers in 7 years, with only 42 wolves and 2 breeding pairs. Even in the Southwest, where the wolves were re-introduced in 1998, 68% - 74% of voters polled said they had heard “nothing” or only “a little” about the wolf recovery program. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Mexican gray wolf population had reached an all-time high of 109 wolves, and the Facebook page devoted to the wolves’ recovery has an international following of passionate wolf supporters.
Roxane George, who is the lead administrator for the Mexican gray wolves Facebook page and associated Mexicanwolves.org website, says that the success of the social media campaign to save the lobo, a collaborative project of conservation groups, scientists, and volunteer activists, confirms the premise on which the project was based - “that if people were made aware of the desperate plight of the Mexican gray wolf, they would care very much, and their concern would translate into action to avoid a second extinction of these beautiful, intelligent, family-oriented animals from the wild.”
She added, “But while we’re celebrating milestones-109 wolves in the wild and 1 million supporters – we and our fans all over the world know that so much more is needed for Mexican gray wolves to recover. The wild population is genetically impoverished, and without a recovery plan, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is making management decisions that contradict what scientific experts say the wolves need.”
Facebook fan Donald Jones of Los Alamos, NM described some of the changes advocated by wolf experts.
“The lobos need to be introduced in the Grand Canyon area and southern Colorado and protected throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. They need greater genetic diversity in the wild, which at this point will only come from releasing more of the wolves presently in captivity. There should be greater penalties for killing them illegally and the government should focus on assisting livestock owners with coexistence measures instead of killing and trapping wolves. I call that ignorant, inexcusable and wrong.”
Jones said he’s involved in activism for Mexican wolves because “They are keystone species. They drive evolution to maintain healthy and strong prey animals. They keep streams healthy by keeping deer and elk out of them so that the banks don't erode, fish can live in them and young trees can grow on their banks. I could go on and on about the benefits they give to the environment.
Keystone species are called that because of their importance to the structure of an ecosystem. Remove the keystone of an arch, and the whole thing falls apart. We have a choice. Either we pass on a viable ecosystem to our grandchildren or we don't. Does anyone want to make bets on what happens if we don't?”
Mexican gray wolf Facebook fans like Jones are indeed highly engaged. Many go far beyond liking, sharing, and commenting on the page’s posts by speaking out at public hearings and state wildlife agency meetings, participating in rallies, joining Mexican gray wolf “packtivist” groups in their communities, writing letters to the editor, hosting and tabling at public events, and insisting that their elected officials work on needed changes to ensure the lobo’s recovery.
Gina Edwards, her husband Mike, and her daughter Brianna, made Mexican wolf recovery a family priority after learning about the wolves on the Facebook page. Gina said “We have learned so much about wolves through the website and the Facebook page! We’ve always loved wildlife, especially wolves. When we found out about the plight of the Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America, we decided we needed to help in any way we could.”
The Edwards family traveled from their home in Surprise, AZ several times in the past two years to hearings in Pinetop, AZ to advocate for revisions to the Mexican wolf reintroduction rule that would give the wolves greater protections and freedom to roam beyond arbitrary boundaries. Brianna Edwards, who is now 9 years old, spoke bravely for the first time before representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and hundreds of concerned citizens when she was 7, and again when she was 8, and has given a presentation on Mexican wolves for her classmates every year since second grade.
Gaylene Soper, a Flagstaff, AZ fan who has become an ardent lobo advocate, said “For a very long time, our government officials have been blowing a smoke screen over the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. Lobos are like the little guy, just trying to survive and take care of family while being constantly threatened by political attacks and agency mismanagement. Because of that, they need a loud voice, and I want to help provide that.”
Albuquerque, NM fan Adrienne Seltz, who took on a leadership role in the Albuquerque Packtivist group in 2013, a year after liking the Facebook page, said “I’m thrilled that there are so many people all over the world who love and appreciate our Mexican wolves. All New Mexicans need to make their voices heard so that the decision-makers know that we value our native wolves. They are so important to the health of our ecosystems and to our culture and we need to protect them for future generations.”
In addition to its loyal supporters in the Southwest, the page also has thousands of fans in states across the U.S., including in California, Nevada, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and Florida, as well as hundreds of thousands in countries all over the world.
George said, “Even in this time when celebrity tweets and kitten videos reach millions of people, it is significant that a page dedicated to a single, unique sub-species of wolf found only in the Southwest and Mexico has this level of engagement. It is rare to find a page for even well-known animals like polar bears, elephants, African lions, or tigers, or for a national or international conservation organization, that has this large a following. We’ve worked hard to build it, but I think so much of its success is due to the passion for these wolves that was already out there, and the readiness of our amazing fans to go the extra mile to build a community of action, both online and on the ground.”
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