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Two wolves die during annual count

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says two endangered Mexican wolves died during the agency’s annual count and capture operations in January.

The agency says it has temporarily suspended capture operations to conduct a review of the events that led to the wolves’ deaths. It was the first time a wolf has been lost during the census since it began in 2005, said John Bradley, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman in Albuquerque.

“These biologists have dedicated their lives to the recovery of the species,” Bradley said. “For this to happen, it’s devastating. They have been very careful with their protocols and have kept the protocols the same since 2005.”

As part of Fish and Wildlife’s annual count of the wild Mexican wolf population, the agency routinely darts wolves and outfits them with radio collars that allow scientists to gather biological information.

One wolf darted and processed on Jan. 23 was released back into the wild and died four days later, Fish and Wildlife said. A wolf captured on Jan. 28 died within minutes of being darted.

“The techniques, protocol and drugs used were the same as those used throughout this year’s count and last year’s count,” Fish and Wildlife said in a statement.

The people who handled the two wolves that died had received “up-to-date training in drug immobilization and wolf handling,” Fish and Wildlife said in the statement. “All personnel in the helicopter during the count and capture operations are current in training in helicopter safety and aerial capture techniques. A veterinarian was involved in the processing of both wolves.”

Thirteen other wolves were successfully darted, collared and released into the wild without incident, the agency said.

Necropsies of the two wolves will be conducted at Fish and Wildlife’s Ashland, Ore., forensics laboratory.

Although capture operations have been halted, the census is ongoing and is expected to be completed this week, Bradley said.

Mexican wolves were nearly brought to extinction in the early 20th century. An effort to save the few animals known to remain began in earnest in the 1970s. The first wolves bred in captivity were released to the wild beginning in 1998.

There were 110 wolves in the wild across the recovery area in New Mexico and Arizona as of the 2015 census.