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Volunteers With Wings Making A Difference for Lobos

Winter is an exciting season for wolves and the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC); it’s the season of romance! Wolves are “mono-estrus” — breeding only once a year during the winter months.

The Species Survival Plan (SSP) management group for the Mexican gray wolf determines which wolves should breed each year by using software developed for the population management of endangered species. Genetic diversity is the primary consideration in the selection of Mexican wolf breeding pairs because all Mexican wolves descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction.

It turns out that Mexican gray wolf F1505 (affectionately nicknamed Trumpet) has a great match on paper. She has an extremely low inbreeding coefficient with a wolf she has never met – Mexican gray wolf M1564.

Optimistic that our matchmaking will be successful, our first task beyond planning on paper is to unite the wolves in reality. Sounds easy, but what if the wolves are on opposite corners of the country? With breeding season approaching, we needed to get M1564 from New Mexico to New York. But how?

For occasions such as this, we call upon a very special group to help– one with wings!

LightHawk is a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that donates flights to conservation groups. LightHawk asks that its volunteers bring a lot more than skill. For flights over North America, pilots use their own aircraft and absorb the cost of fuel, insurance, and hangaring during a mission.

Early in the morning on October 18, pilot Michael Baum prepped his aircraft (a Socata TBM 700) at Truth or Consequences, NM. There, WCC curator Rebecca Bose and the crated lobo boarded his high performance single-engine plane to fly 3.5 hours to St. Louis, MO.

lighthawk_logo_sm_3 Next, Rebecca and the wolf met Jim and Pat Houser to board a second plane, their Pilatus PC-12, for 3.5 more hours in the air to get them to Danbury, CT.

This wasn’t the first time that pilot Jim Houser has swooped in from the sky to offer support to the WCC and endangered wolf recovery. In 2013, Jim flew Rebecca and two newborn Mexican gray wolf pups in his six-passenger plane.

After a full day of flying, the dedicated crew reached their final destination – the WCC in South Salem, NY. It was a long day for everyone involved, but an especially hairy one for the elusive lobo.

But with each cautious step form his travel crate with the soft earth beneath his paws, M1564 began to ease. A new chapter had begun for the lobo, and it started with a name.