By Elizabeth Sanchez
2016 marks the 40th year of the Mexican Gray Wolf’s listing under the Endangered Species Act, according to Defenders of Wildlife New Mexico Outreach Representative Michael Dax.
Today, only 97 live in the wild in the United States and only 25 in Mexico. Around 250 live in captivity in both countries, Dax said.
In response, the University of New Mexico Biology Undergraduate Society and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance united to create the annual, education-based Wolf Fest as a spin-off of the politically-based Wolf Rally, former Biology Undergraduate Society President Jesse Trujillo said.
The new event was created with a focus on accurate education and the importance of preserving the University’s beloved lobo, something dozens of students took part in during Wolf Fest 2016 on Friday in front of Zimmerman Library.
The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary brought Forest, a live wolf, for the event. Informative tables from the Biology Undergraduate Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Lobos of the Southwest, the Museum of Southwestern Biology and the UNM Wilderness Alliance were also set up at the event.
The Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary was also taking donations, which will go towards supporting rescued wolves, wolfdogs, coyotes, New Guinea singing dogs and Australian Dingos.
Ryann Carter, the Biology Undergraduate Society’s co-president and the event’s primary organizer, said one well-known figure in the world of fantasy literature has been a particularly avid supporter of the sanctuary.
“The sanctuary is home to a pack of wolves previously known simply as the ‘Iowa 10,’ but later named by George R. R. Martin after characters from his novels, including Arya, Brienne, Ghost and Jon Snow,” she said.
Carter said the goal of the event is to raise school spirit, as well as wildlife conservation awareness, especially when it comes to the wolf. She said she hopes events like Wolf Fest can imprint a lasting appreciation for wildlife, regardless of students’ future career goals.
Biology Undergraduate Society Secretary Devon Lagueux, said that continuously disrupting and exploiting natural ecosystems is just as hazardous for humans as it is for other species which are directly affected.
“Losing an apex predator like the (Mexican Gray Wolf) has repercussions for the rest of the food chain, decreasing species diversity,” Lagueux said. “Natural spaces and communities support human agriculture and pharmaceutical research. When species are lost or ecosystems are disrupted, our own activities are affected.”
The wolf’s population has been significantly reduced due to human encroachment and hunting in the U.S., Lagueux said. Despite repopulation efforts in New Mexico, many people view captive-bred wolves through a lens of fear, often resulting from a lack of knowledge.
Dax said he hopes to see a recommitment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help the Mexican Gray Wolf recover. One thing the agency can do, he says, is transfer new breeding pairs from captivity into the wild, create a scientifically-grounded, comprehensive recovery plan for the wolves and form new core populations in the appropriate habitats.
Despite a majority of state voters who would like to see the wolf reintroduced, a small, vocal minority finds it acceptable to illegally kill wolves, which has slowed the process of helping the population grow, he said.
“Mexican Gray Wolves are the most endangered Gray Wolf in the world,” Dax said. “Wolves are a vital part of New Mexico’s wilderness and our natural heritage. We have the opportunity to ensure that there will be wild lobos for generations to come, and recovering this iconic species of the Southwest is the right thing to do.”
Biology Undergraduate Society Co-Treasurer Emily Johnson said she hopes visitors will better understand wolves and conservation through Wolf Fest and recognize how valuable wildlife preservation is, eventually advocating for it themselves.
“I hope that our students, no matter what future they picture for themselves, can walk away from this event with a greater respect for wildlife conservation, for their school mascot and for the real-life representations of our mascot in the wild,” Carter said. “Biologists are not the only people who can make a difference in nature, and I hope this event allows people to realize the potential they have to help.”