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The Wild is Calling, The Lobos are Ready

Associated Press – January 26, 2009 9:44 PM ET
PINETOP, Ariz. (AP) – Federal agents are investigating the suspicious death of a Mexican gray wolf near Pinetop. The female wolf was found on Jan. 19. It had died from a gunshot wound and was dumped along Highway 260. The wolf was part of the Moonshine Pack in the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project in Arizona and New Mexico.

I was devastated when I read these words. I remember the day clearly, I was sitting at my desk in the Wolf Conservation Center’s (WCC) office in South Salem, NY thinking, we’re two for two. It was roughly two months after the wolf’s release into the Arizona wilderness when the five-year-old female was found dead. Her “name” was F836. She was beautiful. So was her sister, F838. I guess you can say that I “knew” them.

We were first introduced to the sisters in November of 2004 when the WCC welcomed four Mexican wolf yearlings from a facility in Minnesota. Our Center was selected to care for these wolves as a participant in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP). We had the enclosure space available and the luxury of allowing them to reside off exhibit in a natural environment with minimal human contact. Although the wolves are identified by alphanumeric labels – F836, F837, F838, and F839, we called the sisters “the Minnesota Girls.” They were strong and elusive. I didn’t have a relationship with these wolves, in fact I rarely saw them, but I understood their weighty significance.

When the Minnesota Girls arrived, we were relatively new to the MWSSP program and were honored to be a part of the recovery effort. Less than a year later and with much jubilation we received the most exciting news: F838 was chosen for release to the wild Southwest. We transferred the two-year-old to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pre-release facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico where she was paired with a mate.

The following spring the wolves proved fruitful adding two pups to the limited Mexican wolf population. The family, dubbed the Meridian Pack, was placed in a temporary mesh holding pen in eastern Arizona on July 6, 2006. Perhaps with understanding of the liberty just beyond their grasp, the pack eagerly freed themselves within twenty-four hours.
From our office in New York, we closely followed the pack’s voyage. I challenged school children to imagine that they were F838 – the thrill of living without boundaries and fence-lines and the task of bringing an ecosystem back to balance. F838’s story enhanced our education programming and helped guests better understand the significance of the special wolves on our property that they were not allowed to behold.

Just a few months after her adventure had begun, we received the dreadful news that F838 was dead–illegally killed. Three years later, F836 was granted a life in the wild only to suffer the same fate as her littermate. Each wolf had only a few months to enjoy their rightful place in the wild. But a few months in the wild was the biggest gift we could have ever given to the girls from Minnesota. If not for some heartless criminals, they could have survived and contributed to the recovery of their species.

The deaths of the Minnesota Girls weigh heavy on our hearts, but our commitment to our mission and the recovery of Mexican gray wolves in the wild remains strong. While tragic, these shootings strengthen our resolve to restore these majestic creatures to their ancestral home in the wilds of the Southwest.

It’s been four and a half years since F836 received the call of the wild and no other captive Mexican wolf has received the opportunity to create a home on the wild landscape since. None of the WCC’s wolves have been released since F836.  It’s time to release some wolves.