At the end of 2007, we published a story by investigative reporter John Dougherty called “Last Chance for the Lobo,” about the “bloody mess” that had become the Mexican wolf reintroduction in New Mexico and Arizona. There were so few wolves left when the recovery effort started that many born in captivity were inbred. Ranchers didn’t want the wolves on the land any more than they did decades ago, when they almost wiped the predators out. Wolves were illegally killed, or baited to prey on cattle so the feds would do the dirty work of predator control themselves. When Dougherty’s story ran in our pages, 84 reintroduced Mexican wolves had been killed -- and there were just 40 left in the wild.
Four years later, the population has increased a bit -- to 58 wolves -- but little else has changed. Four out of five wolves released in Mexico in the fall of 2011 met death-by-poison within months. Stateside, three of the four wolves known to have died last year were illegally shot. (Although, this was good news, in a way, because fewer wolves died, in total, than in the previous year.)
A glimmer of hope was publicized over the summer: Two new couples had “hooked up,” and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hoped they would breed and grow into viable new packs. And at the beginning of this year, a male, M1133, was released in Arizona, with the hope that he would mate with the top lady dog in the Bluestem Pack, whose alpha male was poached last summer. It was the first release in four years.
But this arranged marriage -- like so much of the recovery effort -- didn’t go as planned. Last week, M1133 was recaptured because he’d strayed outside his prospective mate’s territory and the two were unlikely to meet.
John Morgart, then Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, told Dougherty in 2007: “Wolves can make it in the wild if it’s just a matter of biology. Wolves are easy.” That M1133 was snapped back up so quickly for doing what wolves do -- roam -- is another reminder that the relationship between people and wolves in the Southwest is still remarkably uneasy.
Cally Carswell is HCN's assistant editor.