Hopes for the reestablishment of the Mexican gray wolves rose in January when federal authorities released the first male wolf into the wild in four years.
But the wolf, released into Arizona on Jan. 7, was recaptured three weeks later on Jan. 29, after he wandered outside the territory of his intended mate, an alpha female of the “Bluestem Pack.”
The incident, and the slow progress of reintroducing wolves into the Southwest, has frustrated environmental advocates.
“It’s unbelievable that after four years without releasing any new wolves to the wild, that they immediately pick him up again,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Both the chronic lack of releases and the recapture of this male ignore urgent pleas from scientists and conservationists to release more wolves to help the struggling population. At last count, there were fewer than 60 in the wild.”
There are just 58 Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which began reintroducing the wolves in 1998. Mexican gray wolves, native to the Southwest, were declared an endangered species in 1976, decimated by the massive hunting and poaching that drove most US wolves to the brink of extinction (some in the Upper Midwest were less threatened).
The effort to release adequate wolves into the wild is urgent, Robinson said, because the remaining wolves need genetic input to thrive; and more immediately, wolf breeding season will only last another week or so.
In addition, wolves being held in captivity that could invigorate the wild population are aging, and many will soon pass their breeding years, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Fish and Wildlife should be releasing family packs or at least dozens of single lobos to the wild right now, today,” said Robinson. “As the Mexican wolf slides toward extinction, officials are sitting on their hands and even hastening the decline by removing wolves from the wild.”
US Fish & Wildlife and Arizona wildlife officials were not immediately available for comment. Presumably, the four-year-old male wolf, known as M1133, will again be released in an attempt to unite him with the female leader of the Bluestem Pack. The female wolf lost her mate to a poacher.