By Rene Romo
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — Surviving in the wild while raising pups is tough enough for Mexican gray wolves, but the two alpha wolves of the Middle Fork pack are doing so on three legs each.
The Middle Fork pack is at the center of a recent and much-debated series of decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to leave the wolves in the wild despite a string of eight confirmed cattle depredations in the Gila National Forest since July 30. Citing the pack’s genetic importance and the small size of the Mexican gray wolf population in the wild, the Fish and Wildlife Service has exercised flexibility in not enforcing a policy that calls for the removal of wolves for three cattle depredations in one year.
A veterinarian working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service amputated the front left leg of the alpha female, designated AF861, in January 2008 after she was spotted with a leg injury and captured.
The front left leg of her mate, designated AM871, was amputated one year later after he was spotted during aerial surveillance with an injury caused by a leg-hold trap, according to reports filed by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.
“Even though they each only have three legs, they are raising four pups,” said David Parsons, a biologist with the Albuquerque-based Rewilding Institute. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
The alpha female’s leg injury was caused by a gunshot wound in a case that is still under investigation, Bud Fazio, Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf recovery program coordinator, disclosed to the New Mexico Game Commission on Thursday in Las Cruces.
John Oakleaf, Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf field project coordinator, said the loss of a leg does not appear to have greatly hampered the pack alphas. “Not only do they survive, they produce pups and do all the things that wolves do,” Oakleaf said. “When they are running full-speed, it’s hard to tell” they are three-legged.
“There’s a lot of three-legged coyotes in the world, and they make a living. … They survive.”
This story was published in the Albuquerque Journal on October 4, 2009: