In the winter of 2004, M796, a two-year-old male wolf from the Cienega Pack in Arizona, found his way across 100 miles of forest, canyons, and grasslands to the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico. Somewhere on his long journey he formed a bond with an uncollared yearling female from the Gapiwi Pack in New Mexico. In April the interagency field team found him in the San Mateo Mountains, accompanied by his pregnant mate.
Because the wolves had settled down outside the boundary of the Mexican wolf recovery area, project personnel trapped them in August, after being unable to confirm the presence of living pups, and took them into captivity. On September 30th they released AM796 and his mate, now collared and given the number AF903, into the Gila Wilderness. It took the pair only about 20 days to vote with their feet and return to the San Mateo Mountains.
In the spring of 2005, the interagency field team again trapped the San Mateo wolves, placing them in temporary captivity. Soon afterward, AF903 gave birth to four pups, three of which survived to be released with their parents in eastern Arizona, not far from where their father began his long journey the previous year.
The pack stayed near the release site for a few weeks. In late August we heard them howling from our campsite a few miles away. The chorus included some not very competent howls that we assumed were the pups.
Eventually the San Mateo pack moved as far as the Arizona/New Mexico state line east of Escudilla Mountain. There they established a territory and settled down. On December 23, 2005, members of the field team photographed two large, healthy-looking pups in the area.
The pack remained east of Escudilla Mountain in 2006, breeding again in late winter and producing at least two or three pups in the spring. On March 15th the adult pair killed one of the many cattle grazing in their home range.
In May the field team caught and collared one of the two yearling pups, m927. More than six months later, the adults and m927 killed another cow. Under a policy in effect at the time, the pack was subject to removal if they killed one more head of livestock within 365 days.
In November the little lobo family suffered another setback. M927 was found dead after an attack by other wolves—probably members of the large and assertive Bluestem pack, which had invaded San Mateo territory. The adult pair and two uncollared pups born in 2006 remained in their home range and were seen on the end of year helicopter survey.
The year 2007 was a difficult one for many packs of wild Mexican gray wolves, several of which were involved in conflicts with livestock. The San Mateo pack was no exception. On January 31st AM796 was confirmed to have killed a calf, his third depredation in 365 days. Although conservationists protested to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the his first depredation incident in March 2006 had taken place on an inactive public lands grazing allotment from which cattle were supposed to have been removed, the Service was adamant in insisting that the calf killed was “lawfully” grazing because it had at one time been authorized to graze the allotment.
On February 5 the Service issued a permanent removal order for AM796. Project personnel shot him from a helicopter on February 20, 2007—the first of three wolves lethally removed that year.
After the death of her mate, AF903 remained in the area. On April 9 the field team confirmed that she had killed a calf, her second depredation in 365 days. It appeared in July and August that she might have denned, suggesting that she had a new mate. By early August, however, she had begun to move widely, indicating that she did not have pups after all. After several months of wandering, the end of year survey in January 2008 found AF903 and a newly collared wolf, M1114, farther to the east in New Mexico.
Watch for more of AF903’s story in Part 2.
Biography by Jean Ossorio
Landscape photos by Jean Ossorio.
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