The Mexican gray wolf, a sub species of the gray wolf, shares little else but its name with its faraway cousins. Its foothold in the wild is tenuous and survival may well depend on how much protection federal laws can offer to these animals.
Also known as Mexican wolves or “lobos”, the Mexican gray wolf is the smallest of the five sub-species of gray wolves in North America. These mammals are also the most endangered, and conservationists estimate that there are only 175 Mexican gray wolves in the world today.
The Mexican gray wolf was exterminated in the wild in the Southwest by the 1930s. First characterized as an endangered individual species in 1976, the Fish and Wildlife Service created a species-wide designation for gray wolves in 1978, which included the Mexican wolves. In 1998, the government began reintroducing gray wolves along the Arizona-New Mexico line in a 4 million acre-plus territory interspersed with forests, private land and towns.
Reintroduction efforts have been greatly hampered by illegal shootings, complaints from ranchers who have lost cattle to the wolves and removal of wolves that have violated the program’s three-strikes rule. This refers to a ruling that states that Federal agents can kill or trap and remove any wolf that has been involved in three livestock kills within a year.
The Mexican wolf predator control program has been condemned as preventing recovery, and biologists have called for more protection, which will allow more wolves to stay in the wild, roam freely and raise their pups. The shadow of a very ugly truth looms; one that speaks of governmental trapping and shooting of endangered Mexican gray wolves in order to appease the livestock industry.
Adult lobos are about the size of a German Shepherd, weighing in between 70-90 pounds and standing from 4 to 5 feet long. Often called “El Lobo,” this sub species has long legs and a sleek body with gray and light brown fur on its back. Animal activists are most concerned and have issued petitions to save the gray wolf based on the grounds that these Mexican wolves live more than 700 miles away from their nearest cousins and occur in an environment where warm and arid conditions limit vegetation and prey.
Mexican wolves prefer to live in mountain forests, grasslands and shrub-lands, and are very social animals. They live in packs, which are complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. The pack functions within a hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals.
Three conservation groups; namely, Wild Earth Guardians, the Rewilding Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed separate petitions asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Mexican gray wolf on the federal endangered-species list separate from other gray wolves in North America. They feel such action would impel the agency to pay more attention to the plight of the Mexican gray wolf.
In the words of Rob Edward of Wild Earth Guardians, one of the groups that filed a petition:
“It’s obvious that absent a sub-specific designation, Mexican wolves will continue to flounder in the wild and may in fact go extinct for a second time.”
Biologists had hoped to have at least 100 wolves in the wild and 18 breeding pairs by 2006. The most recent survey indicated that at the end of 2008, there were 52 wolves scattered between New Mexico and Arizona. Conservationists say the greatest threats to the wolves are livestock grazing and human activity.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity, stated:
“I think this is a real exception where you have this recovery program, but you don’t have a clear idea of what the goals should be based on the current science.”
Unlike the petitions filed by the other two, Greenwald’s group asks the agency to list the Mexican wolf as either a subspecies or a distinct population. All three groups hope to force the hand of the Fish and Wildlife Service to update the decades-old recovery plan in the name of the Mexican gray wolf whose survival is severely threatened.