Re: the southern California wildfires and the Mexican wolf program.
I spoke to Mr. Valentino this afternoon (8/1/02) and this is the written version of his side of our conversation. It is a great loss in this heroic effort to restore the Mexican Wolf to the Southwest region of the United States. (Salle Engelhardt, Vice President, Wolf Recovery Foundation for Ralph Maughan)
August 1, 2002
Dear California Wolf Center supporter:
On mid day Tuesday, July 30th a devastating and fast moving fire swept through the eastern portion of the California Wolf Center killing four wolves. The four wolves were from a pack of 8 Mexican gray wolves living in an enclosure known as Mexico II. Mexico II included a breeding pair (193 x 434) and their 6 pups. At this moment all of the other wolves at our facility appear healthy and safe and it appears we are almost free from further threat of fire. The loss of these wolves is a tragedy and nothing we do now will bring them back. They were not only important to us as individual wolves, they were also valuable members of the Mexican wolf recovery effort.
Fire fighters, pilots performing aerial drops, and 12 dedicated volunteers and staff stood between the fire and the wolf enclosure risking their lives literally to the last minute to save the wolves.
The fire moved through our facility in only a few minutes. Flames that may have exceeded 100 feet high hit an eastern fence line area of Mexico II affecting about 1/3 of that enclosure. Unfortunately female 434 had always used this specific area when she was nervous and must have stayed in this area as the fire hit. 434 may have attracted the attention of the three pups that died with her in the fire. Male 193 stayed away from the fire in the same enclosure and had three pups with him. Attempts to remove wolves under these conditions had only a limited chance of success and a high probability of putting more wolves at risk by creating a chaotic situation.
Because the wolves at the Center are non\tame wolves and the unpredictable nature of fire conditions in Southern California, we established a plan of defense protecting all of the wolf enclosures. Except for a 20 foot wide section in Mexico II, our fire defense system was effective in saving 27 of 31 resident wolves. The enclosures on the eastern slope contained 13 wolves of the 31 and were designed to provide safe areas for wolves in case of a fire that cannot be defended. (The western slope contains 4 enclosures including 18 wolves.) This was done because a fire rushing up a hill will leave little time for an orderly evacuation (such as this fire event).
We are assessing the total damage to the facility. Our Mexico II enclosure sustained some fire damage. The surviving Mexican wolves from the pack are currently being contained in a smaller sub enclosure of Mexico II that was not affected by fire at all. Firefighters worked to cool down the affected grounds and have informed us that it is safe to return those wolves to the affected enclosure. We are keeping the wolves at close hand until all threat of fire is removed (in order to preserve the genetic material represented by this pack). Firefighters and Wolf Center staff and volunteers remain on site 24 hours to keep the wolves protected from any further fire damage.
One empty enclosure recently built for Mexican wolves (known as Mexico III) with funds from the Phoenix Zoo, Defenders of Wildlife and some of their donors was in part destroyed by fire.
We owe a continuing debt of gratitude to the fearless firefighters from local and region wide fire departments and from the California Department of Forestry Fire Division as well as the local San Diego Sheriff and California Highway Patrol. These folks responded to our calls within minutes and young men and women risked their lives running into the fire zone in defense of the wolves. Aerial drops of fire retardant were made repeatedly and pilots took great risks diving their planes into smoke and flame filled canyons east of the center to provide defense. Again nothing can replace the loss of these wolves. This tragedy will be tough to get through for all of us at the Center and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan. We remain committed to make a growing contribution to the recovery of North American Gray Wolves and the Mexican Wolf recovery Program.
We appreciate your continued support,
For the Board of Directors of
The California Wolf Center
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