The first wild Mexican gray wolf to successfully foster pups from another pack has died. AF923, the alpha, or breeding female of the Dark Canyon Pack, was found dead in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in May. Cause of death has not yet been announced.
AF923 was born in the wild into the Francisco II Pack in the spring of 2005. She and three littermates, along with their entire family, were removed to captivity for killing some cows when the pups were just six weeks old. About a month after their capture, the little lobos lost their mother. An excerpt from the project monthly update for July 1-31, 2005, tells the story.
“On the morning of July 21, one of the best known wolves in the Mexican wolf reintroduction project died. The alpha female of the Francisco Pack, AF511, overheated during a routine capture and check-up. Despite immediate veterinary care and follow-up treatment, she died sometime later.”
AF923 was released into the wild in 2006. By July 2007, she and former Rim Pack alpha male, AM992, had begun to travel together and were soon designated the Dark Canyon Pack.
For the first three years, none of the pack’s pups survived until the end of the year. In 2011 two pups survived, followed by a single pup in 2012 and two more in 2013.
In 2014 Mexican wolf reintroduction project personnel were faced with a problem. A captive born female wolf had been paired with a wild born male and released into the wild shortly before she was ready to give birth. Unfortunately, the pair was apparently not well bonded. The male left the pregnant female behind to have her pups alone.
Fearing that she would be unable to provide for herself and the pups, members of the interagency field team captured the female and puppies. She was later re-released with a different male wolf and four of her six pups. The other two were placed into the den of the Dark Canyon Pack, who had three pups of their own, as a sort of insurance policy in the hope that some of the six Coronado Pack pups survived to contribute their genes to the wild population.
At the end of 2014, four of the five pups reared by the Dark Canyon pack survived, including at least one of the two cross-fostered pups. Their success paved the way for the placement of six captive born pups into three wild dens this year.
In addition to her mate, AM992, Dark Canyon AF923 leaves behind in the wild several pups and grandpups, including the alpha females of both the Iron Creek Pack and the Prieto Pack.