Nearly Curtains for the Mexican Wolf
In North America, the gray wolf has been nearly driven to extinction. Only thanks to recent conservation efforts in places like Yellowstone and other areas of North America have gray wolf populations bounced back. Unfortunately, this is not the case for a subspecies of gray wolf living in the US Southwest and Mexico, the Mexican wolf. There are few other land animals on the continent that have come closer to extinction. They were ruthlessly hunted and trapped by ranchers and the federal government since the 1800s. The Mexican wolf has been reduced to captive breeding in order to keep their species going. But this conservation effort appears to be failing, as it is plagued with mismanagement and conflicting rules.
The Mexican wolf was nearly exterminated in Mexico and the US by the 1970s. The captive breeding program was launched in 1980, starting with just a handful of wolves. That handful has grown to several hundred in captivity. A mere 58 now survive in the wild, dramatically less than their counterparts, the gray wolves of the northern Rockies, which number upwards of 1,700 in the wild.
In 1998, eleven captive wolves were released into the wild by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the agency in charge of their recovery. Several months later, the alpha female was found dead, shot by a high-powered rifle. The other released wolves were later found slain, disappeared, or removed by wildlife officials for venturing out of their "recovery area" in eastern Arizona.
In 2010, the US FWS declared the Mexican wolf population at risk of failure. Many have accused the agency for neglecting to carry out their full obligation under the Endangered Species Act.
Blocking the Mexican wolf recovery is the negotiated rules between the federal and state governments, more restrictive for this endangered species than for any other which is being reintroduced to the wild. Here are a few of the rules.
- The wolves can only be freed within a small patch on the border of Arizona and New Mexico
- Those preying on cattle can be legally removed or killed
- Those venturing out of the recovery area must be trapped and brought back
These rules make life very difficult for the poor Mexican wolf, who cannot venture out of their patch in their search of food or in their natural dispersal. Furthermore, they are surrounded by cattle ranches, but are forbidden to act out on this savory temptation under penalty of death.
Nevertheless, the US FWS likes to call the recovery effort a success despite the limitations. According to the agency’s southwest spokesman, Tom Buckley, they are seeing second and third-generation Mexican wolves in the wild which is a very good sign.
Unfortunately, the recovery area is now saturated by the 58 wolves in the wild, which have all established their own territories. This makes the introduction of any new individuals to the wild from captivity, an extremely hazardous and dangerous prospect.
Link to the US FWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Program
Mexican Wolf image via Shutterstock