Arizona Tribe Offers Tours to See the Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves Ranchers Are Poaching

Mexican Gray Wolf

Mexican Gray Wolf, photo by FWS

The Mexican Gray Wolf is down to maybe about 40 animals in the wild after yet another illegal shooting (the third since January, the 34th since the program started 12 years ago). Even though it’s one of the toughest animals to see in the wild (and getting harder with every poaching), Defenders of Wildlife is starting a tour to try to see the animals with local Arizona Apache tribes.

On the recent trial run, tourists got to hear wolf calls, see scat and tracks and learn about wolves, other native animals, and Apache crafts from tribal elders, says Eva Sargent, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s southwest program. But they didn’t get to see any wolves.  There’s no guarantees in wildlife watching. Sargent hopes the tours–which will run several days and cost $1,500–will show the tribes that they can make money off the wolves. “Otherwise theyre just eating your cows and they’re mad at them,” she says. The tribal radio station talked about the tour, so everywhere the group went, people knew what they were doing and asked if they’d seen wolves, she said.

After yet another wolf carcass was found last week, local animal activists want the Fish and Wildlife Service to take back radio signal receivers given to ranchers to avoid conflict, the Arizona Daily Star reports. They worry that instead of using the signals to avoid wolves, they’re using them to seek out the packs and either shoot the canines (especially males) or provoke an incident that allows the ranchers to shoot the wolves legally.

The latest wolf body was found near Big Lake, which is near Eagar, AZ, near the NM border and in the Apache National Forest. Another from the same Hawks Nest Pack was killed there recently, leaving two adults to care for seven pups–an overwhelming challenge. In these circumstances–helping a critically endangered species that somebody is messing with–biologist will sometimes drop off roadkill carcasses so that poachers don’t succeed in wiping the species out.

The species was down to just seven individuals when the Endangered Species Act passed, MexicanWolves.org says. Zoos and a handful of wolf preserves have far more Mexican gray wolves (about 300) than the wilderness does (40ish). We’ve become like China, with its thousands of tigers on farms and just a handful in the wild. MexicanWolves.org and other wolf advocates think the Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecutors are going easy on poaching ranchers. They’ve only charged people in two of the 33 wolf shootings and in 2007 government agents intentionally shot four endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico by helicopter and plane.

Even the Fish and Wildlife Service points out that they’re removing way to many animals for this species to survive. Their most recent status report concludes: “The Mexican wolf population had an overall failure (mortality plus removal) rate of 0.47 in 2007, which is too high for natural (unassisted) population growth. This suggests the project must reduce management related losses (e.g. removals) and/or release and/or translocate more wolves in 2008 to provide for desired population increase.” They’ve only released a single new wolf since that report came out three years ago.

The last annual count in January showed only 42 wolves, down 20% from 2009. Illegal killing by humans is by far the biggest cause of death for the Mexican gray wolves (nearly half die this way), followed by getting hit by a car (about 20%). Legal shootings–by wildlife officials or ranchers–accounted for 6% of their deaths–though that was before the 2008 bloodbath. We’ll see how many of the pups survive the summer.

Field Trip Earth Map

Fieldtripearth.org's Map of Mexican Gray Wolves in June, 2010

Where to Go to See Wolves

Where to See Wildlife Out West

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3 comments to Arizona Tribe Offers Tours to See the Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves Ranchers Are Poaching

  • Jim Parks

    As a cowboy and rancher all my life, I know that no rancher would knowingly kill a wolf on his ranch because he would be the first suspect. He would be liable for a hefty fine and possibly some jail time and none of us needs either one. All the rancher wants is to be left alone, much like the wolf. For you to campaign to demonize the rancher in favor of the wolf is wrong and nothing but anti-rancher bias without real proof. I have seen several wolves in the wild in my years in the saddle, and never shot at a single one of them. Most of the wolf killings, especially the ones many miles outside the wolf range like the one at Big Lake, were probably done by hunters mistaking the wolf for a coyote. This happens more often than anyone would like to admit,so don’t be so quick to blame all ranchers, or any rancher, without real legal proof that they’ve done something wrong.
    Jim Parks

  • [...] consolation prizes–hearing wolves howl and making casts of wolf tracks. The Apache tribe is about to start offering tours to go try to see the Mexican wolf, a program expected to make both the tourists and guides appreciate the wolves more. Whether you [...]

  • [...] Read about the Apache tribe’s effort to offer a Mexican wolf tour. [...]