Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Pup births boosted the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild in the Southwest for the second year in a row, according to a new census conducted by federal, state and tribal agencies.
The 58 wolves counted in New Mexico (26) and Arizona (32) compare to the 50 counted a year ago and the 42 wolves counted at the beginning of 2010. More importantly, the number of breeding pairs increased from just two in each of the preceding annual counts to six in 2011.
“Eight more wolves in the wild than the previous year is a step back from the edge of extinction,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “And that’s happy news. Of course, six breeding pairs is still perilously low — and that low number is due, in part, to the Obama administration’s slowdown in releasing wolves into the wild.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released just two wolves into the wild in 2011, adding to the 18 pups born in 2011 and found to still be alive. Both released wolves had been captured in past years.
In total, over the past five years, just 11 captured wolves have been released into the wild, while dozens of other once-wild wolves still languish in captivity. Only a single wolf has been released from the captive-breeding pool (i.e. an animal not originally captured from the wild) over the past five years, and that was in 2008.
Nine wolves are known to have died in 2011, including two illegally shot, one apparently killed by a vehicle, one shot by the government, one struck by lightning and four whose causes of death have not been released.
The 1998 reintroduction of Mexican wolves to Arizona and New Mexico was projected to result in 102 wolves, including 18 breeding pairs, in the wild by the end of 2006, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s environmental impact statement on the reintroduction. No recovery goal has yet been established for the Mexican wolf; a recovery team is now working on creating such a goal.
“Restoring wolves to the wild helps restore the balance of nature in the Southwest,” said Robinson. “More wolves means stronger and more alert elk and deer, more leftover meals for badgers and bears, and healthier streamsides as elk spend less time eating willow shoots.”
Photo courtesy of Amber Legras