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Wandering wolf captured again

LAS CRUCES — Federal officials have captured a recently released male Mexican gray wolf for the second time in four months after the lobo wandered away from his mate and a designated recovery area.

The wolf, designated M1133, had been in the wild only two weeks when he was captured Saturday and returned to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.

The wolf was among two pairs that Fish and Wildlife released in late April, after a four-year period in which the agency had released only one captive wolf. The releases, which wolf advocates had repeatedly called for, were aimed at bolstering the genetic diversity of the wild population, increasing the number of breeding wolves, and offsetting the illegal killing of endangered wolves.

According to the most recent monthly report on the wolf recovery effort and a Fish and Wildlife spokesman, law enforcement is investigating the recent deaths of two wolves, while the status of another pair will be considered “fate unknown” if they are not located by the end of May.

Federal officials put the male wolf and his mate, a pregnant female designated F1108, into a temporary enclosure in McKenna Park, a remote area in the Gila Wilderness, on April 27. The enclosure is designed to allow wolves to chew through and “self-release,” which the pair did May 3.

But while the pregnant female appears to be denning near McKenna Park to raise pups, her mate headed east, covering more than 75 miles before he was captured east of the San Mateo Mountains in the Cibola National Forest southwest of Socorro.

Because the wolf was outside the boundaries of the 4 million-acre Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, and is considered part of a “nonessential, experimental population,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said program rules required the capture of the wandering lobo.

Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity disagreed, saying Fish and Wildlife was only required to capture the wolf if it established a territory outside the recovery area. Still, Robinson said he did not fault the decision to capture the wolf because it was headed toward a hazard — Interstate 25 — and was not likely to find another mate or pack. “It’s disturbing that there weren’t other wolves en route that might have captured his fancy or slowed him down,” Robinson said, adding, “A lot more wolves need to be released, so these situations don’t keep happening.”

Seventy-five Mexican gray wolves were counted in the wild at the end of 2012.

The wandering lobo had been released in Arizona on Jan. 8, with the hope he would mate with the Bluestem pack’s alpha female. The two did not pair. M1133 headed to where he was not likely to find other wolves, so he was captured.