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Endangered Mexican gray wolf population slowly on the rise

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — There are now more Mexican gray wolves roaming the southwestern U.S. than at any time since the federal government started to reintroduce the endangered species, wildlife managers said Wednesday.

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The results of the latest annual survey of the wolves show there are at least 196 in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona — the sixth straight year that wolf population has increased.

But officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the population’s growth in 2021 was tempered by higher than average pup mortality. Life was made more difficult for the wolves because of a persistent drought that has resulted in low precipitation and scant snowpack, the officials said.

Fewer than 40% of pups survived through the end of the year, though more breeding pairs were recorded in 2021.

“We are happy to see the wild population of Mexican wolves continue to grow year after year,” said Brady McGee, coordinator of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program. “The service and our partners remain focused on recovery through improving the genetic health of the wild population and reducing threats, while also working to minimize conflicts with livestock.”

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Ranchers continue to have concerns about livestock killed by the wolves, saying efforts to scare the predators away from livestock — by horse riders, nonlethal shots fired from guns and flags put up on fences near cattle — have not been effective enough. Feeding caches for the wolves are also set up by officials to lure wolves away from livestock.

State Rep. Rebecca Dow sent a letter to McGee earlier this month about two separate livestock kills on a grazing allotment in her district. The Republican from the small city of Truth or Consequences said Wednesday that she learned about ranchers forced to camp out on their property to protect their herds.

“Ranching is a way of life in our district and the release of these wolves without proper management is taking away from our community’s right to earn a living,” said Dow, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

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Unlike wolf reintroductions in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere in the northern U.S., wildlife managers in the Southwest must deal with a climate that has encouraged a year-round livestock calving season, meaning wolves can prey on the livestock year-round instead of several months of the year.

There are currently about 380 Mexican wolves in more than 60 zoos and other facilities in the two countries. In Mexico, the wild population numbers around 40, officials have said.

The wolf recovery team placed 22 captive-born pups into seven wild dens in 2021 as part of a cross-fostering program aimed at boosting the population’s genetic diversity. Officials said two of the pups have since been captured and collared and that the effort to determine how many survived will continue this year.

Wolves “need better protection and more room to roam and re-establish themselves. U.S. Fish and Wildlife continues to flout the science and bow to political pressure,” Smith said.

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Federal officials are expected this summer to finalize a new rule that will govern management of Mexican wolves in the U.S.

Growth slows for endangered Mexican gray wolf population  The Associated Press

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By Cleo

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