In the beginning before the Apache or Navajo, and long before the cowboys roamed, and before Spaniards rode in conquest, wolves inhabited the ancient Southwest, but as the land began to be settled and cattle ranching took hold in the 1800s, the predatory wolf became an obstacle to commerce.
It was hunted and exterminated...not because it was a mean vicious killer of mankind...but because it was doing what it had always done... survive... in a land that was its own. By the 1920s the Wolf was just about gone from the Western landscape.
The Mexican wolf, also known as "Lobo", is the smallest, most endangered, most genetically unique subspecies of the North American gray wolf. From prehistoric to fairly recent times, the Mexican wolf ranged from central Mexico to western Texas, southern New Mexico, and central Arizona. In Mexico, the wolf was found in the Sierra Madre and adjoining highlands. The present geographical range is uncertain. The presence of Mexican wolf has not been confirmed in the U.S. since the early 1970's and in Mexico since the early 1980's. Unconfirmed reports persist from Durango, Chihuahua, Zacatocas, Sonora, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Mexican wolf is listed as extinct in the U.S. and highly endangered in Mexico.
The average Mexican wolf is 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet in length (nose to tail), 50 to 90 pounds, and 26 to 32 inches in shoulder height. Wolves in the Southwest preferred the mountain woodlands, due to the favorable cover, availability of water, and the abundance of food. The Mexican wolf preyed upon deer, antelope, javelina, rabbits, and other small mammals. Biologists believe the wolves form small family units or social packs consisting of an adult breeding pair and their offspring. Both parents and other pack members would bring food to the young.
Most of our information about the lobo comes from trappers' journals and reports because wild populations were exterminated before they were scientifically studied.
Following an agreement between Mexico and the United States, a recovery plan was begun in 1977 with the live capture of wolves in Mexico. Five Mexican wolves were captured between 1977 and 1980 in Durango, and Chihuahua, Mexico, and were transferred to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. These five wolves, four males and one pregnant female, were the beginning of the captive breeding program for the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf into their native habitat in the United States. The first litter of Mexican wolves born in captivity occurred in 1978 at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
The San Andres Mountains to the west of White Sands National Monument have been chosen as one of the sites for the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf. These mountains are surrounded by White Sands Missile Range, are closed to public access, and have little or no domesticated livestock raised in the immediate area. These conditions make this area one of the most ideal sites in North America for the reestablishment of the Mexican wolf.
The captive population, managed for the United States and Mexico by 31 zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, now numbers over 150 animals. In March 1997, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior approved a plan to restore Mexican wolves to a portion of historic range in Arizona and New Mexico. The final environmental impact statement was completed in December 1996, after 14 public meetings, 3 formal public hearings, an analysis of over 18,000 comments from other agencies, organizations, and citizens.
On January 26th, 1998, twenty-eight years after the last wild wolf had been seen in the American Southwest, Mexican gray wolves were returned to their historic home in the Ponderosa pine mountains of eastern Arizona's Apache National Forest.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Clark helped carry the first cage containing one of three Mexican wolves into the release-pen. While walking from the snow-cat to the transport cage containing the first wolf, "Secretary Babbitt declared, "As we bring these wolves back to the wild, we strengthen the human spirit"
The three family groups of wolves came from the Sevilletta Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico and Wolf Haven, International in Tenino, Washington. They've been raised with minimal human contact to maximize their wild behavior, including their instinctive fear of man.
The wolves will be allowed to disperse and establish territories throughout the 7,000 square mile Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The recovery area includes all of the Apache and Gila National Forests in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. The area is expected to accommodate approximately 100 wolves. Additional family groups will be released each year for the next 5 years, if necessary, until natural reproduction can sustain population growth. A second area, the White Sands Wolf Recovery Area, could be used later if necessary to achieve the objective of 100 wolves.