Nine rare Mexican wolves in the wild die in recapture incidents

May 31, 2006

Jean Ossorio has contributed the piece below. The Mexican wolf program seems to be almost on its last legs. RM

Nine members of a twelve member Mexican wolf pack died in April and May and a tenth is missing and presumed dead in a recapture effort that went awry. The entire Hon Dah pack was targeted for removal after older members of the pack killed at least seven cattle on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation between mid-March and the end of April.

Things began to go wrong almost immediately. On April 20 project personnel trapped a yearling member of the pack and placed him in captivity at the Ladder Ranch in New Mexico. Within a week he was dead of unknown causes. A second yearling captured a few days later remains in captivity.

On May 19 six four-week-old pups from a litter of seven were picked up. Because their mother had not yet been caught, wolf managers placed them for surrogate parenting with a pair of wolves that already had two pups of their own. The alpha male of the pair, which is being held in captivity at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge pending possible release into the wild later this year, killed all six pups in an apparent attempt to protect his own pups from the intruders. In 2005 he served successfully as a surrogate father to a litter of pups sired by artificial insemination at the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center in Eureka, Missouri, where he was given the name Laredo.

The mother of the pups died within twenty-four hours of being captured on May 21, despite having been monitored overnight. The Hon Dah pack ceased to exist when project personnel fatally shot the alpha male on May 24. One uncollared yearling, whose gender is unknown, remains in the wild. It, too, may be trapped if it remains in the area. The seventh pup, too young to survive in the wild alone, is presumed dead.

The loss of the entire litter of seven pups, above average in size for Mexican wolf litters, is an especially unfortunate result of the Hon Dah pack’s clash with domestic cattle. Lower than average numbers of surviving pups for Mexican wolf pairs in the wild, compared with wolf pairs elsewhere, have plagued the project from the beginning. The removal of the Hon Dah alpha pair, one of only five breeding pairs documented in mid-January, represents a serious loss to the program.

With the removal of four adult and yearling members of the Hon Dah pack, the net loss of known Mexican wolves in the wild since January 1, 2006, is five. The probable total number of wolves, excluding this year’s pups, has been reduced to the low thirties.

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Ralph Maughan
Wolf Recovery Foundation

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