Half as Many Mexican Wolves in NY Suburb as in Wild

Atka, a show wolf

Atka, an arctic wolf, eats an apple

One of the many oddities of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is that only about 40 wolves live in the wild but 300 are in captivity waiting for release. The Wolf  Conservation Center in posh Westchester County has 24 lobos–more than Catroun County, NM, the ground zero of the anti-wolf movement. My husband David and I went up to see the wolves for one of their wine and cheese dusk howls.  Next week I get to go out west and try to see them in the wild.

You learn a bit about wolves, have a drink at dusk and see the wolves in their giant pens. We only got a good look at two wolves, what they call the ambassador wolves. Atka, 8, and Kaila, 15, are like show wolves. They’re quite personable and attuned to people. Atka in particular, an elegant arctic wolf, jumped around to chicken thrown to him.

“He’s our best wolf ambassador, but he’s our worst wolf,” says Maggie Howell. He’s easily handled (though never by the public), so he can travel to schools and presentations. At the howl, he hammed it up for the crowd, pacing, jumping for chicken and howling when the crowd howled for him.

At the opposite end of the spectrum and the Mexican wolves. Just before dusk we heard wolves howl in the distance. Spencer Wilhelm, who lead our tour, knew exactly which wolves were howling. Mostly it was the Mexican wolves, sometimes the red (which are also endangered and being reintroduced in North Carolina). Sometimes we’d hear a little intra-pack skirmish.
The center recently just put one non-releasable Mexican wolf on display. She was going to be the highlight of the show, but she didn’t let us see her at all. I got to see a flank of a her back leg as she ran off into her large pen. That’s more than most have gotten to glimpse. Even Howell, in a recent editorial urging the release of more wolves in the Albuquerque Journal after so many have been shot, rarely got to see them. They are fed mainly roadkill deer, tossed over into their pen roughly once a week, but never on a set schedule. “I guess you can say that I ‘knew’ them,” she said of four female wolves that arrived at the center from Minnesota in 2007. “They were strong and elusive. I didn’t have a relationship with these wolves, in fact I rarely saw them, but I understood their weighty significance.”
That’s a big contrast to how wolf opponents describe the Mexican wolves: alternately as vicious, child-eating predators or as tame, hand-raised canines that can’t help but eat cattle. )  Our crowd–maybe 40 people, some families, some couples–sipping wine, laughing at Sarah Palin–is probably exactly what ranchers out west picture when they think of wolf supporters.
But in this case, us eastern elites are Even when the wolves at the center had pups, they couldn’t show anyone. “It was an interesting celebration,” says Howell, describing how she explained the story to local media:  “We have these critically endangered animals. And they have pups. But you can never see them.”
Two wolves from the center were released, then shot within months. The whole program has effectively been on hold for almost five years. Just last week the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it wouldn’t release any wolves this year — without any real explanation.  while federal and state wildlife debate what to do. (The states involved, Arizona and New Mexico, seem to also be locked in a battle over who can be more inhospitable to wolves.) So far the program has released 92 wolves into the wild on the Arizona-New Mexico border. But since 2006, they’ve only released one–despite continued illegal hunting of the wolves. Since 1998, there have been 75 documented wolf deaths. People who presumably don’t like the federal intrusion of wolves introduced to cattle country shot 32 endangered Mexican gray wolves. Twelve were hit by cars. Only 10 were confirmed natural causes; the rest are under investigation.
I’m heading out to Albuquerque today, Tuesday, hoping to get to see some Mexican gray wolves. And maybe learn how to spell Albuquerque.

Where to Go to See Wolves

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