Forest Fire at California Wolf Center Kills 4 Rare Mexican Wolves

August 8, 2002

Here is some bad news from the California Wolf Center which has done much to provide wolves for the Mexican wolf recovery.

In response the Wolf Recovery Foundation has donated $2000 to help them recover. Letter on donation.

Ralph Maughan


FOR Immediate Release

August 2, 2002

Patrick Valentino, Executive Director,
California Wolf Center

(619) 236-9060

Nancy Weiss
California Species Associate
Defenders of Wildlife

(916) 313-5808



JULIAN, Calif. -- On mid-day Tuesday, July 30, a devastating and fast moving fire swept through the eastern portion of the California Wolf Center, killing four wolves. The Center houses more than two dozen gray wolves and provides educational programs on wolves and wolf conservation. The four wolves that died were from a pack of eight Mexican gray wolves which are part of a United States-Mexican bi-national program for the captive breeding of this most highly endangered subspecies of gray wolf. The pack’s alpha female and three of her six pups succumbed to the fire. The alpha male survived, as did three remaining pups that were found safely tucked inside a concrete fire den which had been installed within the wolves’ enclosure in the event of such a catastrophe.

“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 individuals, they were also valuable members of the Mexican wolf recovery effort,” said Patrick Valentino, Executive Director of the Wolf Center.

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, pilots dropping fire retardant, and 12 volunteers and staff from the Center stood between the fire and the wolf enclosure risking their lives up to the last minute to save the wolves. The fire -- which started Monday when a National Guard helicopter is believed to have accidentally clipped a phone line and which has already burned more than 18,000 acres in the surrounding area -- moved through the facility in only a few minutes.

The surviving Mexican wolves from the pack are being housed temporarily in a smaller sub-enclosure of their pen that was not affected by the fire, and the other wolves at the Center appear healthy and safe. Firefighters and Wolf Center staff and volunteers remain on-site around the clock to keep the wolves protected from any further fire damage.

Total damage to the facility is being assessed. The enclosure containing the eight Mexican wolves sustained some fire damage and all of the vegetation in a yet-unoccupied enclosure recently built for Mexican wolves with funds from the Phoenix Zoo and a national wildlife conservation organization, Defenders of Wildlife, was destroyed.

“The Center’s commitment to wolf conservation and its participation in the captive breeding program for the Mexican gray wolf is held in high esteem by the wolf conservation community,” said Nancy Weiss, California Species Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. “We are all grieving with the Center over this terrible loss, and send our condolences and support to the Center and its staff.”

“While this tragedy will be tough to get through for all of us at the Center and for all the participants in the Mexican gray wolf recovery program, we remain committed to make a growing contribution to the recovery of all North American Gray Wolves,” Valentino said.


The California Wolf Center is a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1977 and located in the mountains of San Diego County. The Center is an education, research and conservation facility focusing on the North American Gray Wolf, and promotes conservation of gray wolves and all wildlife through education, exhibition, participation in captive breeding programs, and studies of captive-wild wolves. To learn more about the California Wolf Center, please visit

Defenders of Wildlife is a leading non-profit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 430,000 members and supporters - 100,000 of whom are in California - Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. To stay current on hot topics in wildlife conservation, please visit