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Mexican gray wolf celebrates 15 years in the Southwest
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf in the Southwestern U.S., but wildlife advocates say more needs to be done to ensure the wolves’ long-term survival.
The reintroduction got underway in the Arizona Apache National Forest with the release of the 11 captive-bred Mexican gray wolves. The recovery program has grown to 75 wolves, but advocates say much higher numbers are needed to ensure the long-term survival of the ‘lobo.'
"That's all your chickens in one basket, so when you see huge wildfires like we've had the last two years, those kind of things threaten your population when they're all in one place. So does disease, and a disease epidemic could come in and wipe the entire population out," said Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife.
Sargent said genetic diversity would help the wolf adapt to changes in climate and food supply. She supports an emergency rescue plan to expand the gene pool, which currently has only three breeding pairs. The rescue plan would start with the expansion which would release more of the 300 Mexican gray wolves currently being held in zoos and breeding centers.
Most of the opposition to the recovery program has come from ranchers, and Sargent believes they have a legitimate concern.
"Wolves don't eat very many cows, but if they're your cows, that's a real problem. I think that there's a lot of ways that ranchers are learning to coexist with wolves, and they're a lot of programs to help them from various groups," she said.
However, Sargent said that ranchers are learning to co-exist with the wolves. Events marking the 15th anniversary of the recovery program are taking place in Flagstaff, Pinetop and Albuquerque, N.M.