Commonly called “el lobo,” the Mexican gray wolf is currently living on the brink as one of the most endangered species in the world.
Mexican gray wolves once roamed vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico but were eradicated by the 1900s in the U.S. due to conflicts with humans and livestock, while populations in Mexico dwindled. In 1976, they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts began the following year.
In 1982, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which recommended a captive breeding program and supported a goal of maintaining at least 100 wolves in their historic range. Because no one was sure how the program would do, or if wolves could successfully be reintroduced, there was no other definitive goal set for the program at the time, other than to continue working on recovery efforts.
In 1998, the first captive Mexican gray wolves were released in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona, but work on a full recovery plan keeps getting delayed and has received opposition from ranchers who don’t want to see wolves returned to their range.
As of now, the number of Mexican gray wolves in the wild is at 58 in New Mexico and Arizona with six breeding pairs, up from 42 and two breeding pairs in 2009, but their population is still vulnerable to a host of threats from disease and hunting/trapping to wildfires and scientists worry about genetic diversity and their ability to maintain a population with so few breeding pairs. At least nine wolves have died in the past year, including two who were shot illegally.
“While the increase comes as good news for these highly endangered animals, the small population of 58 lobos is still extremely vulnerable. Wolves are smart, adaptable animals, but they can’t make it alone. New releases of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico are urgently needed to ensure a healthy population,” said Eva Sargent, Defenders of Wildlife’s Southwest program director and Mexican gray wolf expert.
Approximately 300 wolves are now being housed at multiple facilities in the U.S. and Mexico as part of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, which “maintains the goal of housing a minimum of 240 wolves in captivity at all times to ensure the security of the species in captivity, while still being able to produce surplus animals for reintroduction.”
Meanwhile, ranchers have been compensated through public and private funds. Lawsuits have been filed by numerous organizations, including Wildearth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Rewilding Institute, to help this species recover and the FWS has even issued reports highlighting the need to reform the reintroduction program and recovery criteria, in addition to the need to release more wolves, yet hundreds sit in captivity waiting.
“Restoring wolves to the wild helps restore the balance of nature in the Southwest,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “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.”
Please sign the petition asking the FWS to update its policies and begin releasing more Mexican gray wolves into the wild before its too late. For more information on Mexican gray wolves, visit mexicanwolves.org.
Photo credit: Throughwaters