By Reece Alvarez
M1141, a five-year-old Mexican gray wolf (lobo), left South Salem’s Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) two weeks ago to meet his future mate and take a chance at life in the wilds of Sonora, Mexico.
“Artificial boundaries, state politics, illegal killings and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of all wild lobos as an experimental, non-essential population have put recovery in a choke-hold,” said Maggie Howell, director of the WCC. “So the release of these two lobos is an exciting step in the right direction and we’re honored to help these wolves to resume their rightful place in the wild.”
M1141 is the third Mexican gray wolf to be released from the WCC this year; two pups were transferred to a facility in Indiana to be raised and bred to preserve their genetic material that is vital to rebuilding the lobo population.
According to the WCC, lobos, a native species, once numbered in the thousands and roamed freely throughout the woodlands of the southwest United States and Mexico. Between 1977 and 1980, the last five known wild Mexican wolves in the world were captured in Mexico and taken to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to start a captive breeding program.
Currently there are only two wild Mexican gray wolves in Mexico and 75 in the United States, an insufficient number to rebuild the population to a sustainable level, Ms. Howell said.
“With this release, we are attempting to establish a breeding wolf population in Mexico and also expand the genetic diversity of the wild population,” said Rebecca Bose, a curator at the WCC.
Rebuilding a species
While the two lobos released earlier this year were not eligible for release into the wild because of their need for human intervention in their survival, M1141 was born and raised in a secluded portion of the WCC off limits to the public. In addition to a steady diet of whole carcass deer, M1141 is the perfect candidate in both genetics and instincts for release into the wild.
“I am very excited,” Ms. Howell said. “This guy has never been introduced to a female. I hope that he proves fruitful and that is a lot of fun for him.”
The WCC is all too familiar with the heartbreak that can come with a release, as it has seen wolf populations across the country decimated by hunters and business interests opposed to the reintroduction and rebuilding of native wolf species, including a few released WCC wolves who were killed after their release into the wild.
“I think it is a really good step in the right direction in terms of getting these animals on to the wild landscape,” Ms. Howell said. “While it is amazing this little Westchester wolf is going to have no fences and a vast wilderness to explore, it is always with crossed fingers because out in the wild there are a lot of unnatural challenges.”