Wild Mexican wolf population drops 12% - Albuquerque Journal

Wild Mexican wolf population drops 12%

The population of endangered Mexican wolves in the wild decreased last year due to adult deaths and a steep drop in the pup survival rate, according to an annual count by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service reported finding 97 wolves in the wild, compared with 110 this time last year. The 12 percent decline comes after five straight years of population increases.

“We cannot be certain if this abrupt decline is an anomaly, as our trends since 2010 had been more encouraging prior to this year, including a 30 percent growth in 2014,” said Sherry Barrett, the agency’s Mexican wolf recovery coordinator.

Barrett said that there are “many dynamics” that could have led to the population drop and that Fish and Wildlife will “carefully analyze the contributing factors to try to actively reverse this decline.”

The census was conducted using on-the-ground surveys during the last two months of 2015 and aerial surveys during the first two months of this year. The resulting count is considered a minimum of wolves in the wild.

Reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf began in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998.
Reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf began in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998.

Thirteen adult wolves were found dead in the 2015 census, compared with 11 in 2014. Another 11 radio-collared wolves have disappeared, Fish and Wildlife said.

Additionally, far fewer wolf pups survived through December last year: 55 percent, compared with 86 percent in 2014. Last year, 23 wild-born pups survived through the end of the year.

“If past is prologue, then a high percentage of those reported to be dead will eventually be reported to have been illegally shot, and a high proportion of those disappeared will never be seen again,” said Michael Robinson, a wolf advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I hope that’s not the case.”

The federal government first began releasing captive-bred, endangered Mexican wolves to the wild in 1998 in an attempt to establish a wild population of the apex predator in Arizona and New Mexico. The program has faced stiff opposition from farmers and ranchers who fear their cattle will fall prey to wolves, as has happened.

Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the wolf mortalities to determine cause of death; necropsies will be performed on the recovered carcasses.

Robinson said wolves face a range of dangers in the wild. Mountain lions have been known to attack lone wolves that have strayed from their packs. An elk’s powerful kick can mortally injure a wolf. Wolves have also been illegally shot, he said.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents more than 16,500 hunters and anglers statewide, said the reintroduction of wolves is a “tricky issue.”

“We don’t want wolf populations to have a deleterious impact on other native species,” he said. “But it’s so important to restore a native species. They are an important part of ecosystem health.”


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