By: Debbie Kelley
A half-blind endangered Mexican gray wolf that had been loose in Teller County since escaping from a wildlife center a month ago was captured Wednesday north of Divide.
John Oakleaf, field coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, said the wolf’s right front paw is injured and veterinarians are treating it. After the wolf recovers, he said, it will be moved to another wildlife center rather than risk having it escape again.
Jack, as the wolf is known, was trapped 40 miles northwest and 15 miles west of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide. Oakleaf said it obviously had no trouble surviving in the wild.
Wolves are “good at making it in the wilderness,” he said. “They can take down a deer, if needed.”
He also may have had some help. Jack was seen eating steaks put out for him this week, according to the center’s online conversations.
Earlier Wednesday, several staff members “did set eyes on him” with what was reported at the time as an apparent broken leg and confirmed it was Jack for one-eyed Jack, as he is blind in his left eye.
The wolf is young — he was born in captivity last year and had arrived at the center the day he climbed over one fence, under another and ran off, Oakleaf said.
The Mexican wolf is considered endangered, as a subspecies of gray wolf that was once common throughout the Southwest United States but was nearly eliminated from the wild by the 1970s. Since the start of recovery efforts, the population has ballooned to 114 in the wild through captive-breeding programs like the one at the center in Divide, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“I want to thank everyone for your overwhelming support for Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center during this very difficult time,” Darlene Kobobel, founder of the center in Divide wrote.
“In a world that is so divided and with so many things that effect our lives, your messages of hope and prayers have helped me more than you know.”
Oakleaf said the community also was critical in locating the wolf.
Kobobel started the sanctuary after rescuing a wolf dog headed for euthanasia in 1993.
Colorado State Parks and Wildlife, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Species Survival Program, the Mexican Gray program, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Teller County Animal Control, and veterinarian Dr. David Volz also have been involved with the effort.
“When I was young I had a fear of wolves due to the stories that still circulate today,” Kobobel wrote on Facebook.
“As I educated myself I learned how amazing these animals are and why it is so important to teach people to understand the vital role that they play in a healthy ecosystem, and to dismantle the outdated information about how they may eat school children at the school bus stop, and how we can successfully work together with hunters and ranchers.”
Gazette reporter Liz Forster contributed to this story.