Saturday, July 03, 2010
2 Alpha Male Wolves Dead
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — Federal law enforcement officials are investigating the suspicious deaths of two endangered Mexican gray wolves, both the alpha males of their packs, found in the past two weeks in Arizona and New Mexico.
The collared alpha male of a third pack, the Paradise pack that roamed the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona, also has been missing since mid-April.
The alpha male of the Hawks Nest Pack, one of only two packs to have produced a pup in 2009 that survived until the end of the year, was found shot to death June 18 in eastern Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week. On Friday, the agency confirmed that another wolf, the alpha male of the San Mateo Pack, was found dead under suspicious circumstances last week in New Mexico.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Charna Lefton would not say whether the San Mateo Pack wolf was shot because a necropsy to determine the official cause of death is pending, but she noted the case has been referred to law enforcement for investigation.
The San Mateo Pack, which consisted of an alpha male and female, had been observed traveling in the north-central portion of the Gila National Forest.
The effort to recover Mexican gray wolves in a swath of federal forests straddling the Arizona-New Mexico border has been beset by challenges since the first lobos were released in Arizona in 1998. Federal officials had expected the wild wolf population would grow to 100 wolves by the end of 2006, but the 2009 count totaled 42 wolves, down from 52 in the previous year.
A report issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service in May called illegal shootings the "single greatest source of wolf mortality in the reintroduced population." Between 1998 and June 2009, 31 of 68 deaths of wild-roaming wolves were caused by illegal shooting, according to the report.
The Hawks Nest's alpha female appears to have whelped seven pups this spring. The San Mateo and Paradise alpha females, the only surviving adults from those packs, have been observed denning, though the number of pups being raised is unknown, Lefton said.
The loss of an alpha male puts added pressure on surviving adult members of a pack to provide attention and food to pups at a critical time of year. The agency is providing supplemental food to the San Mateo and Paradise packs.
Federal and state agencies, along with conservation groups, have offered rewards totaling $52,000 for information leading to the apprehension of anyone responsible for the shooting death of a Mexican wolf.
The Fish and Wildlife Service described the Hawks Nest Pack, which traditionally roamed an area east of Big Lake in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest for its spring-summer breeding territory, as having "a proven record of avoiding domestic livestock in favor of native prey animals like elk and deer."