Upsurge since 2012 brings year end population to 109-

The long struggling population of Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico has finally topped the initial (interim) reintroduction goal of 100 wild wolves. At the end of 2014, the official estimate was a minimum of 109 wolves. The population was close to equal between Arizona and New Mexico. The population is still short of the required number of breeding pairs of wolves.

The extinct-in-the-wild Mexican wolf restoration began with their Arizona release in 1998 near Alpine, AZ close to the New Mexico border. One of the goals was creation of a persisting population of at least 100 wolves. Unlike their northern cousin, the gray wolf, the smaller Mexican wolf at the time consisted entirely of captive specimens. This made restoration to the wild difficult.

In addition to their initial lack of wildness, the Mexican wolf releases were beset with a high number of illegal killings.  For years too, a significant number of these wolves were retrapped and taken into captivity following conflicts with livestock in Arizona and New Mexico. The wolf restoration project suffered from an inadequate sized recovery zone which was limited to a small fraction of Arizona and New Mexico.  Because this wolf sub-species had been rescued from sure extinction in the 1970s when the small remainder was trapped and penned, the wolves suffered too from lack of genetic diversity. This problem is one that will never go away no matter how much the population increases.

After their initial release, the number of Mexican wolves grew slowly. Then after the number passed 50, things began to go backward.  Year after year, the population was stagnant. Conservation organizations finally determined that the biggest problem that could be remedied was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) itself.

FWS was shooting or trapping into captivity so many Mexican wolves that their population growth had turned negative. There was too much emphasis on strict management of the wolves and not enough on management of the livestock. This was turned around with a lawsuit in 2008. As a result the Service agreed to stop their “three strikes” policy on a wolf that attacks livestock and to help manage the livestock instead.  After about a year, the number of wolves began to grow.

As has always turned out to be the case, the restoration effort was immediately met with hostility. This recovery effort faced a stunning amount of ire from livestock and cultural interests in several rural areas.  The  smallish wolf sub-species was made out with a fearsome image — repeatedly stalking children, killing enormous numbers of cattle, and wiping out the elk.  Bus stop refuge shelters were even built at some rural school bus stops so the children could hide from wolves. In reality, there never were wolf attacks on anyone. Now these shelters sit as abandoned props for the local story. The elk are fine and the number of cattle are as it was before.

Beginning with 67 wolves in 2012, the population grew to 80, then 83 in 2014 and 109 in 2014.

A new, much more wolf generous wolf restoration plan is about to go into effect.


About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

16 Responses to Mexican wolf population suddenly tops one hundred

  1. Kirk Robinson says:

    Thank you, Ralph. The sudden increase in the number of Mexican wolves – breaking 100 for the first time – and the expanded reintroduction and recovery zones for the species, are two positive signs. However, there are still a number of serious concerns. One of them is that the expanded recovery zone is still not as large as it will ultimately need to be to accommodate a minimum viable population of 750 individual wolves, with at least 200 in each of three sub-populations (as determined by the independent science team in 2009?). Now Mexican wolves will be allowed to expand their ranges throughout most of AZ and NM, except for the northern parts, north of Highway 40. Ultimately, the Grand Canyon ecoregion and parts of southern Utah, as well as parts of SW Colorado, should become recolonized by Mexican wolves. Another problem with the new plan is that its rules on when Mexican wolves can be lethally taken is too liberal. I won’t go into the details here. We must remain informed and vigilant. Folks can learn more here:

    • Louise Kane says:

      “another problem with the new plan is that its rules on when Mexican wolves can be lethally taken is too liberal.” yes and the other big problem is the number of predator killing events and zeal in general for predator killing with an emphasis on coyotes. Like red wolves Mexican wolves suffer from coyotes being unprotected species.

  2. snaildarter says:

    A little good news is nice, even if the long range survival depends of habitat not currently available to them.

  3. BC says:

    Great news. These wolves belong in the sky islands. I hope wolves get back into the San Juans. The major threat to all of this is land use converted to residential.

  4. WM says:

    Does the wild Mexican wolf population represent the full genetic spectrum available, or is there some reserve in the captive wolves which may have not yet been released? Not sure I used proper terminology, but I hope someone who knows can respond.

    Also does anyone know how many captive Mexican wolves there are at present in the US, and whether there is any genetic reserve in those Mexican subspecies wolves that might be in Mexico?

    Both questions are obviously aimed at knowing more about future genetic diversity of the Mexican wolf, without injecting some other donor wolves from other US populations. Seems I recall from an assessment document from a couple years back FWS was talking about genetic blend at the fringes of subspecies ranges, and that genetic purity was in question historically.

    • Jeff N. says:


      There about 300 Lobos in captivity.

      This link does a good job of discussing genetics and I believe will answer you question.

      • Marc Bedner says:

        This is what I recall from the some of the meetings held in advance of the initial reintroduction. The official government biologist (Dave Parsons) position was that only DNA-tested genetically pure Mexican wolves were eligible for reintroduction. This excluded all wild wolves whose ancestry could not be proved. Along with the insistence on an experimental, nonessential status and the inclusion of USDA Wildlife Services, the zoo-based genetics were a critical flaw in the original proposal. These provisions remain in the revised program.
        It’s amazing that these descendants of zoo wolves have been able to thrive as a wild population.

        • Mark L says:

          Just as an aside, the Mexican wolf and the red wolf both resided fairly close to each other in Texas. They were seperated by a population of coyotes that some argue were absorbing genetics from both species, while others argue that back when both kinds of wolves had stable pack structures and adequate mates they would not mate with coyotes. Jennifer Leonard, I think, wrote an interesting article on their conectedness several years ago.
          I’ve been trying to get a partial skeleton that was collected from the north Alabama area genetically sampled for several years now as it seems to have physical characteristics somewhat between a gray and a red wolf (it’s from pre-western coyote days). So far no takers that I know of but you never know…southern wolf skeletons are very hard to come by.

  5. I recently purchased “Wild Animals I Have Known” by Ernest Thompson Seton. It was written in 1898 and Seton says the stories are true. The first story is: “Lobo-The King of The Currumpaw”.
    This story takes place in Northern New Mexico and is a short life history of a legendary cattle killing gray wolf that is eventually trapped and killed by Seton. Seton says that “Lobo” weighed 150 pounds.(Every bit as large as those “Giant Canadian Wolves” that were released in Yellowstone.)
    It seems that large Gray Wolves inhabited the same area that Mexican Wolves are found today.
    I spent two weeks looking for Mexican Wolves in the Alpine, Arizona country a few years ago. I felt then and still do, that the area was more suited to Gray Wolves than the Mexican Wolves because of the size of Elk which seem too large for Mexican Wolves make a living on.
    I think that Gray Wolves, Mexican Wolves and Coyotes all lived together in that part of the world and that Mexican Wolves may have scavenged the kills of the larger Gray Wolves for at least part of their diet.

    • Nancy says:

      Very good read Larry.

      Re: Redruff

      “It seemed at length a waste of time to follow him with a gun, so when the snow was the deepest and food scarcest, Cuddy hatched a new plot. Right across the feeding ground, almost the only good one now in the Stormy Moon, he set a row of snares. A cottontail rabbit, an old friend, cut several of those with his sharp teeth, but some remained, and Redruff, watching a far-off speck that might turn out to be a hawk, trod right in one of them, and in an instant was jerked into the air to dangle by one foot.

      Have the wild things no moral or legal rights? What right has man to inflict such long and fearful agony on a fellow creature, simply because that creature does not speak his language?

      All that day, with growing, racking pains, poor Redruff hung and beat his great, strong wings in helpless struggles to be free. All day, all night, with growing torture, until he only longed for death. But no one came.

      The morning broke, the day wore on, and still he hung there, slowly dying; his very strength a curse. The second night crawled slowly on, and when, in the dawdling hours of darkness, a great Horned Owl, drawn by the feeble flutter of a dying wing, cut short the pain, the deed was wholly kind”

      • Susan Armstrong says:

        There is a very memorable passage in “Lobo” based on observation.

        …Next morning, I sallied forth to inspect the traps, and there, oh, joy! were the tracks of the pack, and the place where the beef-head and its traps had been was empty. A hasty study of the trail showed that Lobo had kept the pack from approaching the meat, but one, a small wolf, had evidently gone on to examine the head as it lay apart and had walked right into one of the traps.

        We set out on the trail, and within a mile discovered that the hapless wolf was Blanca. Away she went, however, at a gallop, and although encumbered by the beef-head, which weighed over fifty pounds, she speedily distanced my companion, who was on foot. But we overtook her when she reached the rocks, for the horns of the cow’s head became caught and held her fast. She was the handsomest wolf I had ever seen. Her coat was in perfect condition and nearly white.

        She turned to fight, and, raising her voice in the rallying cry of her race, sent a long howl rolling over the canyon. From far away upon the mesa came a deep response, the cry of Old Lobo. That was her last call, for now we had closed in on her, and all her energy and breath were devoted to combat.

        Then followed the inevitable tragedy, the idea of which I shrank from afterward more than at the time. We each threw a lasso over the neck of the doomed wolf, and strained our horses in opposite directions until the blood burst from her mouth, her eyes glazed, her limbs stiffened and then fell limp. Homeward then we rode, carrying the dead wolf, and exulting over this, the first death-blow we had been able to inflict on the Currumpaw pack.

        At intervals during the tragedy, and afterward as we rode homeward, we heard the roar of Lobo as he wandered about on the distant mesas, where he seemed to be searching for Blanca. He had never really deserted her, but, knowing that he could not save her, his deep-rooted dread of firearms had been too much for him when he saw us approaching. All that day we heard him wailing as he roamed in his quest, and I remarked at length to one of the boys, “Now, indeed, I truly know that Blanca was his mate.”

        As evening fell he seemed to be coming toward the home canyon, for his voice sounded continually nearer.

        There was an unmistakable note of sorrow in it now. It was no longer the loud, defiant howl, but a long, plaintive wail; “Blanca! Blanca!” he seemed to call. And as night came down, I noticed that he was not far from the place where we had overtaken her. At length he seemed to find the trail, and when he came to the spot where we had killed her, his heartbroken wailing was piteous to hear. It was sadder than I could possibly have believed. Even the stolid cowboys noticed it, and said they had “never heard a wolf carry on like that before.” He seemed to know exactly what had taken place, for her blood had stained the place of her death.

        • Susan Armstrong says:

          For anyone who does not know, Lobo and Blanca were real wolves. Seton photographed both of them in the traps that finally caught them.


          Lobo (in two traps):

        • Ida Lupines says:

          Terribly, terribly sad. 🙁

        • Ida Lupines says:

          ^^If it seems that wildlife advocates spend more time on wolves, this is why. Wolves have an unfair amount of violence and hatred levied their way than other wildlife does, even if they also prey on livestock.

          While most people can understand shooting a wolf for (proven) livestock depredation, why must torture be inflicted such as above? It’s bizarre.

          Without protection, we’re headed backwards to government sanctioned wolf eradication efforts.

          “Never forgive, never forget, and never again!”

  6. Jeff N. says:

    Larry, based on this information the Lobos seem to be doing a good job of making a living on elk despite their smaller stature…….

    f. Wolf Predation

    A total of 20 carcasses were investigated opportunistically during the winter (January – March) on four wolf packs in Arizona: 18 elk (90%) and 2 mule deer (10%). Age determinations revealed: 11 adults, three yearlings, and six calves/fawns. Sex determinations revealed: six females, seven males, and seven unknown.

    Of the 20 carcasses investigated: nine elk and one mule deer were confirmed or probable wolf kills; and seven elk and one mule deer were determined to be possible wolf kills. Of the 10 elk and mule deer that were confirmed or probable wolf kills, nutritional condition revealed (as determined by bone marrow fat samples collected): five (50%) in poor or compromised health, one in good health (10%), and four unknown (40%).

    Mexican Wolf Recovery Program 26 2013 Progress Report


February 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey