The Wild Release of Mexican Gray Wolf F838

In November of 2004, the Wolf Conservation Center welcomed four Mexican gray wolf yearlings from a facility in Minnesota. The WCC 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 were identified by alphanumeric labels – F836, F837, F838, and F839 - we called the sisters “the Minnesota Girls.”

The journey from Minnesota was quite the adventure for the four sisters but we soon found out that two of the lobas were destined for an even greater adventure: release to the wild!

The Adventure Begins

In October 2005, F838 left her sisters and flew from the WCC to the Sevilleta National Wildlife refuge in New Mexico, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pre-release facility. She was paired with a mate, M806, in hopes that they would bond and welcome pups the following spring. To our excitement, they did! Wolf pups f1028 and m1029 were born in April 2006, contributing to both the genetic diversity of their imperiled species and the overall population count.

The family, dubbed the Meridian Pack, was placed in a temporary mesh holding pen in eastern Arizona on July 6, 2006. Perhaps sensing that liberty was just beyond their grasp, the pack eagerly freed themselves within twenty-four hours. Imagine the thrill and excitement that was coursing through their veins - these wolves, who had spent their entire lives behind fences, were finally free. Free to roam the wilds of the Southwest and contribute to the recovery and rebalancing of native ecosystems. Free to simply be wolves.

Meridian Pack. USFWS photo.
Meridian Pack. USFWS photo.

An Abrupt and Illegal End

Tragically, F838's time in the wild was brief. While the family proved adept at hunting and navigating the trials of the wild, they simply couldn't avoid human-imposed threats. Wildlife officials found the body of F838 on September 23, 2006 - she had been illegally shot and killed. Her death was devastating to all involved - conservationists eager to see Mexican wolves reclaim their rightful place in the wild, WCC staff who so eagerly monitored her wild movements, but especially her family, who lost their matriarch and valued packmate. Her male pup, m1029, was also found dead in July 2006 of unknown causes.

The remaining members, dad M806 and daughter f1028, soon went their separate ways, a phenomenon that often results when breeding members of a wolf family are killed. M806 later paired with the breeding female of the Bluestem Pack and lived an exciting life - he welcomed pups and survived the largest wildfire in Arizona’s history as it swept through his new pack’s den site. On July 6, 2012, on the six year anniversary of his release, M806 was found dead. He was one of the four wild Mexican gray wolves illegally killed in 2012.

F1028 was temporarily removed from the wild in June 2007 due to a leg injury and recovered at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. While there, she was introduced to M1008 and the pair was released to the Gila Wilderness in June 2008. M1008 died in August 2008 and F1028 was considered to be a single wolf until she was found dead in October 2009 from unknown causes.