For Immediate Release
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Mexican Wolf Numbers Decline in Southwest
Illegal Killings Likely a Cause of Alarming Drop
SILVER CITY, N.M. - The number of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico dropped to 97 last year from 110 in 2014, according to a just-released census by federal and state biologists. The troubling decline, which follows five years of annual population increases, was likely driven by the illegal killings of many of the 13 wolves found dead and the 11 wolves missing, as well as a low survival rate among the dozens of pups born last spring.
Further harming the population, two female wolves died during the census count after being captured in order to replace their radio collars.
“Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest remain in serious trouble, and it’s clear they won’t be on a real road to recovery until state and federal agencies step up and do what’s needed to help them survive,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The government should start by retrieving the telemetry receivers that allow livestock owners to track radio-collared wolves. It’s unconscionable to give high-tech tools that strip the wolves of their ability to stay hidden to the very people who have expressed their hatred for wolves and oppose these animals’ recovery.”
The receivers have been loaned out for years, despite high rates of unsolved illegal shootings as well as the disappearances of many radio-collared wolves under suspicious circumstances.
The other likely cause of the decline, inbreeding, stems from the small population being made up of closely related individuals lacking in genetic diversity, and is correlated with pups dying before they mature. As many as 40 pups are thought to have been born last spring, but just over half of them could be found last month.
Scientists have repeatedly urged the releases of more genetically robust wolves from captive-breeding facilities into the wild. The Fish and Wildlife Service periodically announces that it will release wolves, but seldom follows through. During the entirety of the Obama administration, just four captive-bred wolves have been released. Three of them died, and one was trapped and returned to captivity. Last fall conservationists and wildlife biologists requested the release of at least five family packs of Mexican wolves into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
“Endless delay in releasing wolves into the wild to address the genetic crisis results in inbred wolf pups that cannot survive,” said Robinson. “Our government must stop placating livestock interests and start prioritizing saving the Mexican wolf, before it’s too late.”
A U.S. government program on behalf of the livestock industry exterminated Mexican gray wolves from the wild in the United States and Mexico by the early 1970s. Passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 led to the live capture of the last few wolves and successful breeding of seven of them.
A lawsuit by conservationists led to reintroduction in 1998. The population was projected to reach 102 animals, including 18 breeding pairs, by 2006, but only in 2014 topped 100 animals — and has never supported more than eight breeding pairs. A reintroduction program in Mexico began in 2011, leading to approximately 20 wolves in the wild in Mexico today.
The Center for Biological Diversity has two active lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service over Mexican wolves. One suit seeks to compel development of a Mexican wolf recovery plan, which the Service has been promising to develop for more than 33 years. The other suit seeks to overturn regulations promulgated last year that permit increased killing of wolves and also block wolves from being allowed to disperse to the southern Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon region, areas that are necessary for their recovery.
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