Return Of El Lobo: A Recovery Program Coming Of Age
by Ken Kawata
From: International Zoo News Vol. 44, No. 5 (1997), pp. 259-270
Glory, fear and genocide
For unknown millennia, humans have been fascinated and intrigued by wild animals.
Particularly, large carnivorous species have mystified us because of their strength and predatory
habits. The legend of their mythical power survives today. On one hand we have glorified and
admired some of them. Eagles are considered majestic lords of the air, and portrayed as national
emblems. The lion, with its dignified and noble face, has been known as the King of the Beasts.
On the other hand, some animals have evoked fear and hatred. One such example is the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which has loomed sinisterly in our consciousness, immortalized by the story of Little Red Riding Hood. This attitude is in ironical and nagging contrast to our relationship with another species in the genus, C. familiaris, ‘man’s best friend’.
In North America, native peoples coexisted with wolves. With the arrival of European
colonists, the web connecting man with nature began to be torn, and the fate of wolves was sealed. America’s wholesale destruction of wolves has been ably chronicled by McIntyre (1995). The heritage of coexistence with the natural world was alien to the colonists. In their livestock husbandry practice, few animals were fenced in or closely supervised, making them vulnerable to predation. In 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony instituted a wolf bounty. Soon other colonies followed suit, applying various measures to exterminate wolves. Destruction of predators became a national heritage, passed on from one generation to another.
The final phase of the war began in the 1880s. As the vast herds of bison, elk and deer were
exterminated in the West, many wolf packs had no choice but to turn to their only remaining source of food, cattle and sheep. The war continued into the present century – in 1914 Congress
appropriated $125,000 to launch the Predator and Rodent Control (PARC) program of the U.S.
Biological Survey (USBS), predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). ‘No method was too cruel – wolves were shot, trapped, poisoned, clubbed, burned alive in their dens and even hunt’ (Parent, 1990).
From 1915 to 1970 a total of 69,786 wolves, both gray and red (C. rufus), were killed by
USBS/FWS and their cooperators. This figure does not include wolves that were killed by the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service, or wolves poisoned but never found. By the 1950s, the wolf population in its historic range in the U.S., except Alaska, had dropped from two million to just a few hundreds. Few of us would oppose livestock owners’ right to defend their animals, and to kill ‘problem’ wolves. However, as McIntyre put it (1995), ‘Where we went wrong was to go beyond killing just problem wolves.’ It was a genocidal campaign, instead of a predator management program.
The campaign has had other supporters. Some sports hunters assume that wolves might
deplete their target herbivores. Leopold (1966) commented: ‘One of the most insidious invasions of wilderness is via predator control. It works thus: wolves and lions are cleared out of a wilderness area in the interest of big-game management. The big-game herds (usually deer or elk) then increase to the point of over-browsing the range. Hunters must then be encouraged to harvest the surplus, but modern hunters refuse to operate far from a car; hence a road must be built to provide access to the surplus game. Again and again, wilderness areas have been split by this process, but it still continues.’ [Lion here refers to puma (Felis concolor); elk means wapiti (Cervus elaphus).]
It was in the 1940s that this essay was first published. Decades have passed, yet his words
still hold true today. And it is hard to believe that Leopold, the pioneer conservationist, was once a supporter of predator control. Interestingly, Leopold proposed that wolves be brought back to their former home in Yellowstone National Park (McIntyre, 1995). Half a century later, his suggestion was to become reality
Clouds over the Rocky Mountains
The age of absolute extermination has now passed, and wolves are returning, drifting across
from Canada into the northern Midwest and Western states. Coincidentally, in the era of awakening ecological concern, FWS has experienced a role reversal, from exterminator to conservationist. When the Service conceived a plan to reintroduce gray wolves to the Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming, and to central Idaho, it was met with howls of protest. Not surprisingly, U.S. senators from all three states succeeded in blocking reintroduction efforts during the 1980s (Mitchell, 1994).
Against the livestock industry and politicians stood the environmentalists, and emotions, not
facts, controlled the Yellowstone wolf debate. ‘Because of the passion and politics involved, it is
easy to oversimplify this debate. Just as unrealistic as the ranchers’ scare tactics are the claims by
certain environmentalists that wolves are sweet and docile animals; that the wolf is the ultimate
symbol of harmony; and that everything noble, wise and courageous is somehow embodied in this one creature.’ (Askins, 1995) Squeezed between these two camps were the biologists. ‘Wolf
biologists get beat up pretty bad in this business,’ commented one of them (quoted by Mitchell,
1994); ‘We have to deal with hysterical people at both ends.’
Greece, Italy and Spain, which are smaller and have higher human population densities than
the United States, still retain wild wolves, although their methods of livestock husbandry may differ considerably from ours. People in these nations may wonder why the U.S., a larger and wealthier nation, cannot accept wolves. North of the border in Canada, Alberta has 5,000 wolves, and averages about one stock killing per year for every 93 wolves. British Columbia has 6,300 wolves and estimates livestock losses at about $60,000 per year (Bowden, 1992). Within the U.S., in Minnesota, a Midwestern state, 1,700 wolves live among 7,000 farms. On the average, only 29 of those farms suffer confirmed livestock losses to wolves annually (Mitchell, 1994).
Regarding reintroduced animals, in the four years since red wolves (C. rufus) were reintroduced in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south-eastern U.S., they killed only 22 calves (Savage,1995).
Although wolves seem to prefer more traditional prey over livestock, this fact seems not to
influence the opposition to reintroduction. The outrage over this issue in the Rockies possibly
stems, at least partially, from the regionality of the West. Under a cloud of controversy, Canadian wolves were released in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Actually, the recovery efforts for the gray wolf had their roots in a time before this success story came into the picture, originating in a region some 1,000 km south of the Yellowstone.
Wolves in the cowboy country
The Mexican wolf, C. l. baileyi, locally referred to as the ‘lobo’, is the southernmost
subspecies of the North American gray wolf, and once ranged over portions of central and northern Mexico, western Texas, southern New Mexico and southeastern and central Arizona. It is also the smallest subspecies. Its average weight and size are known only from carcasses: males averaged 25-34 kg and females 22-25 kg, and adults ranged from 1.4 to 1.7 m in total length. Confusion and disagreement persist over North American wolf taxonomy; two other subspecies, mogollonensis and monstrabilis, were described in the Southwest beside baileyi. FWS concurs with the theory that considers baileyi to include the above two subspecies (Parsons et al., 1995).
Long before the coming of the Spanish explorers, the Mexican wolf lived in harmony with
the land and the native peoples. For nearly four hundred years, European cattle raisers in the region managed to live with the wolf. All that would change during the late 1800s, when a campaign to eradicate wolves was initiated by ranchers and supported by federal, state and local governments (McIntyre, 1995). It is a familiar story; the program against a predator eventually takes on the emotional overtone of a crusade, as people are taught to abhor and fear the animal. The classic battle between ranchers and Mexican wolves was vividly documented by Seton in his story ‘Lobo, the King of Currumpaw’, which contains ‘almost no deviation from the truth.’ Lobo lived in the Currumpaw region of New Mexico from 1889 to 1894; he died on 31 January of that year (Seton, 1911). According to McIntyre (1995), the hide of this wolf is on display in a glass case in the Ernest Thompson Seton Memorial Library and Museum near Cimarron, New Mexico.
Mexican wolves were never numerous in their natural range. In more than 60 years of efforts at extirpation, PARC records show that only about 600 wolves were killed in Arizona, New
Mexico, and western Texas, compared to about 24,000 in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. The
breeding populations of this subspecies were practically eliminated around 1926, only 11 years after the federal government entered the effort on the public land of the Southwest (Johnson, 1991). Records show that the last wolf was killed in Arizona in 1966, and in Texas and New Mexico in 1970. FWS added the wolf to the endangered species list in 1976.
Stories of wolf sighting persist on both sides of the border. However, since 1980 there has
been no authenticated record of baileyi in the wild. Searches in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico, and within the U.S. portion of the historic range have not confirmed the presence of any remnant populations (Lindsey, 1995). Surveys conducted by Mexican scientist in 1994-1996 have turned up occasional tantalizing possibilities, including recorded wolf-like howls, scats, tracks, and depredation records. However, no confirming evidence has been found. FWS conducted extensive surveys throughout historic Mexican wolf range in the U.S. during 1995-1996, and failed to document the presence of wolves.
Recovery efforts begin
Captive populations of Mexican wolves began before an official conservation program got
off the ground. In 1959, a male was trapped in Tumacacori, Arizona. A female was purchased as a pup in 1961 by a Canadian tourist in Yecora, Sonora, Mexico. These animals founded the Ghost Ranch lineage, named after a facility in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Another captive group, representing the Aragón lineage, originated at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City in the mid-1970s. Because of the questions regarding their ancestry, these two lineages were kept separate from the Certified lineage, the third and largest population.
Under an agreement between the U.S.A. and Mexico, efforts to capture wolves in Mexico
were initiated in 1977. A contract was issued to Roy McBride of Alpine, Texas, and he captured
four males and one pregnant female between 1977 and 1980 in Durango and Chihuahua. The
capture represented the last-ditch effort to rescue the lobo. These wolves became the nucleus of the Certified lineage, which was later renamed the McBride lineage. They were transferred to the
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona (Parsons et al., 1995). The application for an international studbook for this subspecies by Dr. Inge Poglayen was approved by AAZPA, IUCN and IUDZG in 1979, and she published the first edition in 1980 (P. Siminski, pers. comm.).
The decline of the Mexican wolf had already alerted certain individuals and groups in the
1960s. In February 1979, FWS sponsored a workshop at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to
discuss a recovery program (Ames, 1983). In September of that year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team held its first meeting under the leadership of Norma Ames, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The Team, appointed by FWS, formulated plans and recommended action for saving this subspecies from extinction and re-establishing it in the wild (Meritt, 1979). The Team prepared the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which was approved and signed by the director of FWS and the Director General of the Dirección General de la FaunaSilvestre (Mexico) on 15 September 1982.
The key objectives of this plan were to maintain a captive-breeding program, and to reestablish
a viable wild population (FWS, 1982). From the beginning, zoos have played a vital role
in the recovery efforts (e.g. Siminski, 1992). Until 1985, the Recovery Team advised FWS on the
management of the captive population. In that year, a consortium of holders, the Mexican Wolf
Captive Management Committee, was established, and the Committee met annually to formulate
recommendations to FWS. While offspring from the Certified lineage were dispersed in zoos, the
administration of the recovery program itself was inching at a snail’s pace. In the absence of the
full backing of political leaders, it was difficult for the FWS official to implement the recovery
program. Stumbling blocks abounded, including the lack of funds, as well as the public relations
problem created by the perceived reputation of wolves (reviewed by Bowden, 1992, Johnson, 1991 and Savage, 1995).
For four years after approval of the Recovery Plan in 1982, nothing happened to move the
project forward. Captive breeding was halted in 1983, as the number of pups overwhelmed the
small number of holding facilities. Early in 1986, partly as a result of the alert from Defenders of
Wildlife, a conservation group, some 400 letters in support of the Mexican wolf arrived at the FWS office in Albuquerque. For a while the project seemed to come to life, as FWS asked three states in the historic range of the subspecies to propose areas for future release. However, this led to more debates and controversies, and things went downhill rapidly. The final blow came in 1987. One of the proposed release sites was the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The missile range was chosen primarily because no cattle graze in this area. In May of that year Major General Joe Owens, new commandant of the range, stated: ‘We do not want wolves on the White Sands Missile Range.’ As he withdrew permission for any wolf release, the controversy over wolves entered a new stage.
In response to the situation, New Mexico conservationists founded the Mexican Wolf
Coalition; another group, Preserve Arizona’s Wolves (P.A.W.S.), was formed in Arizona; and the Mexican Wolf Coalition of Texas was born. In April 1990, the New Mexico Coalition and other wolf advocates sued the Department of the Interior (which includes FWS under its jurisdiction) and the Department of Defense (which oversees the U.S. Army) for failing to fulfill their obligation under the Endangered Species Act to recover this endangered subspecies. Meantime, FWS disbanded the original Recovery Team and appointed a new team in 1991.
The lawsuit was instrumental in getting the program back on track. Within months David R.
Parsons was appointed the full-time Recovery Coordinator. The appointment made history in
Mexican wolf conservation. According to U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (pers. comm., 1991), ‘the
military has agreed to allow White Sands Missile Range to be included as one of a number of sites to be studied for the introduction of the wolf.’ However, FWS still lacked sufficient funds for the Southwestern endangered species program. For instance, of the $1,156,000 allocated in fiscal year 1990 for endangered species recovery in the region, Congress earmarked near 46% for whooping crane and sea turtle programs. After subtraction for another $407,000 for salaries, only $218,000 was left for over 100 other endangered and threatened species.
After negative public opinion had thwarted government efforts to reintroduce controversial
species into the wild, Congress struck a compromise on the Endangered Species act. The product
was ‘experimental/nonessential classification’, a 1982 amendment that is less stringent and allows the protection of the experimental population to be specifically tailored to local circumstances. The Mexican wolf recovery was to adopt this modified strategy. When fully implemented, the reintroduction was to cost between $400,000 and $600,000 annually as of 1991. Release sites were being examined carefully, as well as post-release management actions. The key to the success of the recovery was the production of healthy animals in captivity who were surplus to the captive population (Parsons, 1991).
In Of Wolves and Men, Lopez (1978) stated, without giving any specific details, that ‘wolves
in captivity represent pure strains of extinct races and therefore constitute a genetic reservoir, that is probably meaningless. Zoo populations are sometimes derived from animals of questionable genetic background and/or geographic origin, and in many cases subspecific labels are casually applied. And pups raised in captivity are virtually certain not to survive in the wild.’ He continued, again with no data to substantiate his charges, that ‘wolves in zoos waste away,’ and ‘wolves kept in zoos die every year as a result of poor cage design, faulty capture systems, and harassment.’
If Lopez were to write a similar volume today, one wonders whether or not he would make
the same charges. The successful red wolf recovery program has utilized zoo-born animals (e.g.
Waddell, 1996). Captive-breeding efforts, with zoos in both the U.S.A. and Mexico participating,
have contributed significantly to the recovery programs of the red wolf and the lobo. Specifically, a handful of lesser-known, smaller zoos must be given credit for supporting the Mexican wolf. In the U.S., those institutions are in the historic range of the subspecies, with the exception of the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center, popularly known as the Wolf Sanctuary, located outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Away from the mainstream of the AAZPA (now AZA), they maintained the captive populations during lean years. The Mexican wolf captive-breeding efforts have been a lowkeyed program. With the exception of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, none was an AZA-accredited institution. The roster included: Alameda Park Zoo(which later became AZA-accredited), Ghost Ranch Living Museum, Living Desert State Park, Hillcrest Park Zoo, all in New Mexico, and Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park, Arizona.
Turning point: molecular biology helping lobo
In October 1990, a Mexican wolf PHVA was held in Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen
Rose, Texas, under the guidance of CBSG chairman Dr. Ulie Seal. During this meeting, it was
disclosed that in spite of the small number of founders, heterozygosity in the Certified lineage was very high. The highlight was the presentation by Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles. He found unique gene alleles (variants) in baileyi not found in any other gray wolf subspecies in North America, indicating isolated evolutionary development over millennia. According to this young scientist, the Mexican wolf is the most distinct subspecies of North American gray wolf, and may be a relict form remaining from an early invasion of wolf-like canids that had crossed into North America over the Bering land bridge from the Old World. The PHVA marked a turning point for the lobo. In May of the following year, IUCN announced that its Wolf Specialist Group considered the Mexican wolf recovery the highest priority need for wolf conservation the world over. The Group, chaired by Dr. David Mech, urged FWS to follow through with recovery efforts in the light of recent research identifying the Mexican wolf’s unique genetic makeup (Anon., 1991 a).
On the Mexican side, baileyi is among the top five priorities for management attention
within the Terrestrial Wildlife Department of Mexico’s federal wildlife agency, Secretaría de
Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología (SEDUE), which has a captive propagation program (Siminski,
1992). On the U.S. side, a petition was filed to include the Mexican wolf in the Species Survival
Plan (SSP). However, as of April 1992, AAZPA’s position was that ‘the SSP program is not to be taken to the subspecific level’ (B. Read’s memo to Siminski, 1992). But baileyi was no longer ‘just another subspecies’. Its uniqueness seemed to have opened the door, and in December 1993
approval was given for a Mexican Wolf SSP. At this time, the Mexican Wolf Captive Management Committee was replaced by the SSP Management Group.
As of August 1989, the Certified lineage maintained a total of 37 animals, 29 in six facilities
in the U.S.A. and eight in four facilities in Mexico. By 1995, the Certified lineage population hit
the three-digit mark with 107 wolves. The genetic goal set in 1994 projected the need for a carrying capacity of 240 wolves, and preserving 75% of the gene diversity in captivity for 50 years. However, one of the challenges facing the captive management has been the limited number of founders. Since recruitment from the wild was out of the question, the only way to increase the number of founders was to bring in the two uncertified lineages. But there remained the lingering genetic question. In 1988, FWS tentatively rejected the inclusion of the Ghost Ranch lineage in the U.S. breeding program, because of uncertainty about its paternal lineage.
Then, in 1995, came the big boost. A team of genetic experts determined that the Ghost
Ranch and Aragón lineages are pure baileyi, bringing the number in the increased population to 139 animals prior to the 1996 breeding season (Brown, 1996). Further, the molecular data show that the Certified (McBride) lineage has three founders, instead of four as previously assumed. The biologists recommended that the three lineages be combined to increase the number of founders, and to postpone any inbreeding depression. This brings up the number of founders to seven, with two added from each of the previously uncertified lineages (Hedrick et al., 1997). As of the summer of 1996, there were 149 animals in 30 institutions. Another piece of good news in the mid-1990s was the increased number of participating zoos. In particular, the arrival of some ‘elite’ zoos helped to strengthen the program. The Bronx Zoo received a pair in September 1994; soon Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, and Minnesota Zoo, among others, followed the trend.
Meantime, a plan was being made for the eventual release of zoo-born wolves into the wild,
patterned after the red wolf program. It requires re-establishment of a viable, self-sustaining
population of at least 100 wolves in the middle to high elevations of an 8,000 km2 area within the
historic range of the subspecies by about the year 2005 (Parsons et al., 1995). The plan calls for
wolves to be reintroduced into the Apache National Forest in Arizona and allowed to disperse
throughout the adjacent Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The entire area is called the Blue
Range Wolf Recovery Area. A second area, the White Sands Missile Range area, will be used only if it is feasible and necessary to achieve the recovery objective of 100 wolves (see map). The FWS projects that the Blue Range can support about 100 wolves. Beginning in 1998, three to five family groups of captive-reared wolves will be released annually for approximately five years, or until natural reproduction is adequate to sustain the population. Wolves and their offspring will be classified as a ‘nonessential experimental population’ to allow greater management flexibility (FWS, 1996).
Growth through struggles
The Endangered Species Act requires FWS not just to stem the loss of individual species,
but also to work toward recovering viable populations in their natural surroundings. Between 1991 and 1996, in the Southwestern region, FWS conducted 24 public meetings to provide information and allow public comment and discussion. Overall, the mostly urban areas turned out in large numbers in favor of reintroduction, while just the reverse was true in the rural areas (Holaday, 1995). Regrettably, public support does not translate into political support.
‘It is my hope that we can somehow find a way to prevent the extinction of this endangered
species,’ said U.S. Senator Domenici (pers. comm.). Ann Richards, then governor of Texas,
commented, ‘I support the reintroduction of endangered species of wildlife, such as the Mexican
wolf, to Texas, so long as it is done in a manner that does not endanger other species of wildlife and does not harm the livelihood of residents of areas where the potential exists for a new habitat’ (Anon., 1991 b). Unfortunately, these voices represent the rarest of examples. The governors of Arizona and New Mexico have publicly opposed reintroduction, and they are supported by a powerful segment of their constituencies.
The livestock industry in the West is declining economically. Yet, it still dominates the
rural economy, and retains a power political stronghold. Defenders of Wildlife established the Wolf Compensation Fund in 1987, to reimburse ranchers for verified livestock losses to wolves. To help reduce animosity toward the wolf, Defenders extended the program to the Southwest (Savage, 1995). Grass roots support for the Mexican wolf reintroduction is high. However, it will be doomed to failure if the very people who live in the region do not want wolves. Within the
livestock industry, there is a tendency to regard the wolf issue as largely ‘romantic’ (e.g. Dale,
1995). Such a simplistic view overlooks reasons for re-establishment. One is the restoration of the ecosystem by bringing back the top predator, an irreplaceable biological resource. Another is to accept the wolf as the world’s heritage for all future generations. McIntyre (1995) recalls a
touching episode he witnessed at a small zoo in New Mexico. A Hispanic family approached a
Mexican wolf exhibit. A young girl, perhaps ten years old, spotted one of the wolves and said
123 excitedly, ‘It’s a Mexican wolf! He’s part of my heritage!’ Aside from anthropocentric view
points, there also exists the thought that nature should be saved for the sake of nature itself.
For sure, within the livestock industry there are varying opinions. For instance, the Arizona
Cattle Growers’ Association passed a resolution opposing reintroduction of wolves in 1986. Five
years later, the Association passed a resolution supporting the reintroduction (Dale, 1992). The
industry does not necessarily present a monolithic front. However, in general, residents in this
region traditionally tend to view the federal government with profound suspicion and skepticism.
Sometimes the atmosphere at public ‘open house’ meetings was thick enough to slice. However,
people were heard, and FWS was able to make positive changes in the final plan largely in response to comments received. The issue extends far beyond the realm of biology; what is at stake is the question as to who will control the land.
Bowden (1992) asserted: ‘The Mexican wolf is not a biological problem. Nor a true land
problem. With the wolf, we dip into the potent waters of human emotions, those parts of our being we can feel but not always recognize or name.’ Too often we become prisoners of our own
emotion, and fail to peer through the haze of emotions and note that wolves must be recognized for what they are, not what we would want them to be. It was five years ago that Bowden observed: ‘…a fight over where the wolf release should take place, or if it should take place at all, has dragged on and on and now involves three states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), a fistful of state and federal wildlife agencies, pro-wolf coalitions, and anti-wolf ranchers’ and cattlemen’s associations, and has generated bushels of papers with analyses, charges, and countercharges.’ Five years have not changed the political landscape fundamentally, to alter the tide of the anti-wolf force.
As for the captivity program, one major problem has been holding space limitations. Some
zoos prefer big, furry, white and ‘flashy’ subspecies, such as hudsonicus, for public appeal. The
challenge facing the SSP is that of how to persuade zoo officials to provide space for more
meaningful conservation programs. After all, baileyi appears to exist only in captivity. It is said
that this is one of the rarest land mammals in the world (FWS, 1996; Savage, 1995), and on that
account along, deserves more attention in the zoo field.
In spite of its biological significance, the Mexican wolf generated little press coverage in
comparison to the highly publicized Rockies wolf program, except in the Southwest. In my survey there were at least 106 articles, editorials and comments in three newspapers in New Mexico between 6 January 1993 and 12 June 1996. Around the same period, there were 35 similar accounts in five newspapers in Texas. It began to change in December 1996, when articles on the lobo appeared in USA Today, BBC Wildlife Magazine and the New York Times (Kanamine, 1996; Owen, 1996, Zaslowsky, 1996). In spite of increased attention, problems still remain. Congress voted to cut fiscal year 1996 spending on efforts to rescue endangered and threatened species. On the brighter side, 1996 also saw the construction of FWS’s captive wolf management facility at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. In November and December, ten (5.5) wolves arrived here from eight zoos, including one in Mexico, to be prepared for release into the wild.
Despite difficulties, captive breeding has brought the lobo back from the brink of extinction
to a point where it is now feasible to be re-established in the wild. On 4 March 1997, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, who oversees FWS and is himself a former rancher and governor of Arizona, signed a document to give the Mexican wolf a chance to reclaim its turf. With Mr. Babbitt’s approval, the lobo has taken yet another step toward the return to the wild.
Seton’s ‘King of Currumpaw’ first introduced me to the Mexican wolf. It was in post-war
Japan, a devastated, poor nation, and the fate of wolves left a lasting impression in a teenager’s
heart. Little did I know that decades later and half-way around the world, I was to participate in a
conservation program for this animal. Over the years, my wife and I toured the U.S. side of the
historic range of the lobo. It is a familiar backdrop in cowboy films – an arid landscape consisting of sweeping vistas with barren flats, colorful geological formations and sharp-edged hills. The rugged and stark beauty of vast expanses, interspersed with mesas and canyons, is often overwhelming. Somewhat ironically, it is the rugged individualism of the American West that continues to refuse the lobo.
Robert Redford, the movie actor, asserted (Anon., 1991 c): ‘We have made the entire planet
ours. Can’t we afford to give back a little to the wolf?’ Conflicts between man and wolf ultimately boil down to competition for land. Lobo must return. It will represent a process of reconciliation with nature; it will also represent the beginning of healing. However, the possibility of lobo’s successful return now hinges on a thin edge; it depends on whether or not the conservationists can gain enough strength in the political arena.
The author wishes to thank Wendy Brown, Mexican Wolf Recovery Biologist, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, and Peter Siminski, Mexican Wolf SSP Coordinator and
International Studbook Keeper, for critically reviewing the manuscript.
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