Friday, July 14, 2006

Wolves are now wild, thanks to sanctuary


A pack of Mexican gray wolves are where they belong - living in the wild within their historic range - because of the efforts of the Wolf Sanctuary in Eureka. The wolves were released last week in Arizona's Apache National Forest through a joint effort of federal and state agencies and an American Indian tribe. The pack includes the alpha male Laredo, born at the Wolf Sanctuary in 2003, his mate, Alita, and their pups.

The wolves are important because they are among a few wolves with DNA from each of three Mexican wolf lineages, said center director Susan Lindsey. The Wolf Sanctuary - officially the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center - calls the pack the most genetically valuable ever released into the wild.

A group of Mexican grays captured in the wild was the only lineage known to be pure before advances in genetics in the 1990s helped clear two other groups, Lindsey said.

Genetic diversity is important to the survival of the growing population of Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest, which currently numbers about 40 collared animals plus pups and yearlings born in the wild that haven't yet been collared, Lindsey said.

"We very much believe that by putting as much genetic diversity out there as possible, we're giving them all the playing cards to succeed," she said.

The wolves were placed in an area enclosed by a mesh fence that the animals can chew through to release themselves. The pens have been shown to ease the release process and encourage packs to stay in the area where they are released, Lindsey said. This pack chewed their way out in five hours.

The adults have had practice hunting in groups for small game at the Eureka sanctuary and should have no problems feeding themselves and their pups, Lindsey said. All are collared, with the adult female wearing a GPS device that scientists can use to track her movements.

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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