Mexican Gray Wolf Numbers Are Dangerously Low. Only Six Breeding Pairs Cling To Life In The Wild

Although the recovery of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies has been pretty successful, recovery of the smaller, sub-species Mexican Gray Wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, has been poor.

Ten years after they began to be reintroduced, there are only 6 breeding pairs in the two states, and as the article below states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be counting breeding pairs in a way that exaggerates the numbers.

The Service announced that at the end of 2006 there were 59 Mexican wolves and 6 breeding pairs. The 59 is, however, an improvement over last year when they estimated only 35 to 49 wolves in the wild. Back in 1996, the Service estimated that by now (ten years) there would be 18 pairs, rather than just 6 pairs.

The reasons for the lack of success are obvious. The most important is that the wolves are restricted to an artificial box of rugged country on the Arizona/New Mexico border and are not allowed to spread out as the Northern Rockies wolves were. There is not enough room in the box for very many packs, and the Service keeps trapping those that leave to re-imprison them in this administrative box consisting of nothing but lines on a map. In the process of reboxing the wolves, this year 8 wolves were unintentionally killed in events related to their capture.

Article Mexican Gray Wolf Numbers Are Dangerously Low. E-wire.







  1. Alan Avatar

    Why not just a chainlink fence around the “box?” For that is exactly what the “political” fence has turned out to be. This is akin to reintroducing native brook trout to a headwaters stream, but removing them from the waters and hauling them back upstream every time one manages to pass through a culvert leading to private land. Dave Parsons, the retired FWS biologist who led the reintroduction effort in the 1990s, wrote about the program’s troubles and offered recommendations in this letter:

  2. whitishrabbit Avatar

    That’s incredibly sad. I live in Oregon, and it was with outrage that I heard Idaho’s governor, our neighbor to the east, announce his intentions to hold the huge gray wolf hunt. Something about a wolf seems to bring out people’s deepest prejudices.

  3. Alan Avatar

    Here’s an excerpt from FWS’s page for Sevilleta NWR, NM (the refuge’s mission, in part, is to acclimate penned wolves prior to their release):
    “Mexican Grey Wolf Reintroduction Program – In 1995, Sevilleta NWR was selected to play a critical part in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. The following year, six holding pens were constructed which house wolves slated for release into the wild. The main objective of this facility is to foster wild behavior in captive wolves by isolating them from contact with humans. Sevilleta NWR was chosen for its remote location, large size and relative inaccessibility. The USFWS predicts that it will take approximately 9 years until there is a self-sustaining population of 100 wolves in the wild. Sevilleta will continue its role in the reintroduction program until this goal is met.”
    Looks like it’s going to take a lot more than “approximately 9 years” to reach that milestone.
    Here’s FWS’s Sevilleta page:
    The refuge’s own Web site is

  4. Alan Avatar

    I’ve now finished Brown’s book and as he notes in his epilogue to the second edition (which I purchased at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico last November), the solution to a successful reintroduction may involve, at least in part, the trucking in of truly wild gray wolves from the Rocky Mountains. Why? Because all of the Mexican gray wolves let loose into the Blue Primitive Area (marginal wolf habitat, Brown says) go into the wild with little to none wild hunting knowledge. The other piece of the puzzle, as Ralph notes, is letting these animals roam out of the box. Additionally, wild areas like the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico should also become part of the reintroduction package.

  5. robert molina Avatar
    robert molina

    Good morning to all you wolf lovers! Hope all is good with you where ever you’re at. My comments refer to most everyone that comments on the Mexican Grey issue. I’d like to say as a native New Mexican and haveing lived in a small ranching town, I wasn ‘t a rancher, but do have horses, where ever the wolves are put in New Mexico, I can’t speak for Arizona, the wolves will be persecuted. Not because there not wanted or disliked, but because New Mexico is all ranching. 2/3 of all ranchers have leased land and the other 1/3 have their own ranches passed down from generations. And the ranchers are the same minded. All though they don’t make millions of dollars off of ranching, it is they’re livelly hood. There are a few Forest Parks one in Northern New Mexico, the Valles Calderes, would be the next best place. but that again would be a government issue. Yes they do need the roaming freedom to be able to populate faster and larger paks, but the Game and fisheries only work with what they are alloted. they do there best with what they have. And the Gila and BMWRA are both big areas believe me I know I’ve in both of them. Another comment, releasing Grey Wolves wouldn’t be the solution. Again they are a wolf just like Mexican Grey, the ranchers wouldn’t go for that either, and they would end up meeting the same plite as the Mexican Greys. The pups born in the wild are going to be true wild wolves of the south west. We need to ensure they’re safety and hope that they’re parents teach them how to hunt the right animals. Time will only tell on this issue. I’m not an avocate or ranchers, I like you wish they would see the light, I my self could live with the fact that all cattle became extinct, but that’s another issue. They wolves in all they states, including Canada,Alaska, all have issues, as we know, some more than others. We just need to support our governments and hope that they atleast suport the wolves survival as much as they can. Don’t give up, the wolves survive with or with out our help. Positive always comes out of negative. the last count of Mexican Greys was 59, with 10 or so un collared, they are growing in population. whether it takes 10yrs or 50yrs let’s be patient. A well know horse psychologist friend of mine, Monty Roberts, quoted, “slow is always faster,” and I agree. On that I end my comment. Have a great day and fill free to comment on my cooment, Robert in New Mexico

  6. Jean Ossorio Avatar
    Jean Ossorio

    Re: Alan’s comment #4:
    If you read Mexican wolf monthly updates and annual reports carefully, you will see that the lobos have been doing a fine job of hunting–mostly elk. The reason the population has failed to grow with expected rapidity traces to several causes, none of the related to the fact that these are captive wolves. (And as Robert Molina points out, more and more of the wolves in the recovery area are wild-born, in any event.)

    One, the inflexible “boundary rule” which prevents the lobos from setting up territories outside the artificial boundaries of the current recovery area, has caused numerous packs and individuals to be trapped, taken into captivity, and sometimes relocated. Often the packs have split up upon translocation, with members straying erratically, getting hit on the highways, etc. Reproduction of those packs has been set back.

    Two, there have been numerous removals for livestock depredations. Livestock grazing in many parts of the recovery area is not seasonal, but year-round, presenting more opportunities for conflict than up north. Also, the land is very rugged, and livestock are not monitored closely.

    Three, litter sizes have been somewhat smaller than in other areas.

    Fourth, there have been 24 illegal killings over the years–a large number for a small population to withstand. In addition, eight wolves have been killed by project personnel for livestock depredation.

    Thus when you add the mortality rate plus the removal rate, the so-called failure rate is over 60%. This, coupled with lower recruitment rates, has led to the current situation.

    While the numbers for 2007 are somewhat encouraging, the draconian SOP 13.0 on removal of wolves for depredations is still in place, as are the artificial boundaries to wolf movements and on direct releases from the captive population into New Mexico.

    Currently, two packs (Saddle and San Mateo), with a total of some 10 to 12 animals, are one depredation away from removal under SOP 13.0. No new releases are planned for Arizona this year (according to information disseminated at the adaptive management group meeting on January 27th). We are not out of the proverbial woods yet!

    The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) was the “desert wolf” of Aldo Leopold, well adapted by evolution to the mid-elevation oak-pine woodlands of the US/Mexico border country. Those of us active in lobo recovery issues will continue to press for rule changes that will allow baileyi to thrive throughout as much of its former range as possible.

  7. robert molina Avatar
    robert molina

    Hey Jean. good to hear from again. I agree with what you say. and if more people would keep up with the monthly wolf report they would have somewhat more imfo on what is happening. Althought things change out there on a daily bases. I know everyone is always saying, “this needs to be done”, or “they’re not doing this”, etc… But it’s easier said than done. Canis Lupus Bailyi, named after the man that found them, although a sub spicies of Canis Lupus, he is much different. He his more nomadic, he disperses a little more but comes back to his roots, if he isn’t caught by the DofGF first. But he is a wolf. He will go out of the boundaries, but he distinguises not where they are, as we do. Knows not what fences are, only survival. His down fall. Again we must imfesize the wild pups born, they will be what makes the project a success. again, tjis is not an over nite thing! good luck to all you happy howlers. I’m headed to Alpine this week-end, and to Pinetop for a Bald Eagle seminar at the ADGF. Hope to see bald eagles. Happy Howling


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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