Mexico’s work on recovering wolves
Last month, five rare Mexican gray wolves were released by Mexican officials into Mexico’s northern state of Sonora in an international effort to restore the species.
The U.S. and Mexico have long been working together to recover the Mexican wolf population on both sides of the border. However, the U.S. had a jump start in the reintroduction when it began releasing wolves in 1998. A 2009 decision by Mexican President Felipe Calderon to prioritize imperiled species made the Mexican wolf one of five priority species and prompted Mexican wildlife officials to establish a reintroduction plan which was implemented last month.
Wolves are listed as a “probably extinct species in the wild” by Mexico’s native- environmental-species protection laws. This designation means that although the native species may exist in captivity, no documentation shows its existence in the wild.
Historically, wolves roamed in the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leo’n, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Potosi San Luis, the Sank Bank, the Central Plateua and Oaxaca with their main prey consisting of deer and peccaries (a type of wild, pig-like animal).
Mexico’s wolf recovery plan was developed by the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP). The plan was a result of years of work among a variety of national and international wildlife officials and public and private organizations including the Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management. The latter is a formal international partnership comprised of federal wildlife officials representing Canada, Mexico and the United States.
The reintroduction plan, created by CONANP, was created to fulfill the objectives of the recovery plan. CONANP collaborated with Naturalia, a Mexican conservation non-profit, to implement the reintroduction plan releasing the five Mexican gray wolves.
The five wolves were from Mexico’s captive-breeding program. The three female and two male wolves were fitted with satellite tracking collars and will be monitored by wildlife officials.
The planned reintroduction has been steeped in controversy for years.
Biologically, potential exists for the wolves released in Mexico to migrate north and connect to the U.S. population, thus increasing genetic diversity without U.S. efforts. The Mexican-released wolves also add to the total population on the ground, which is now approximately 55.
Sociologically, concerns have been raised about how to manage any immigrant wolves from Mexico into Arizona and potentially New Mexico.
Legally, any Mexican wolves immigrating to the U.S. will receive full, federal protection until they reach the area known as the Blue Range Recovery Area, which classifies Mexican wolves as “nonessential, experimental.” This designation allows federal officials to consider lethal control for wolves that depredate. In either area, any wolf posing an immediate threat to human safety may be lethally controlled.
The most anticipated challenge will occur if Mexican wolf immigrants begin attacking livestock in areas where wolves receive full protection. Livestock producers and managers alike are weighing the options available and planning ahead.
Consequently, the international nature of this reintroduction raises concerns about the proposed construction of a secure fence along the United States-Mexico border. The question about how such a barrier meant for humans would affect wolf and other wildlife movements has yet to be answered.
Photo courtesy of the Wolf Conservation Center
Related linksMexico’s wolf recovery plan (in Spanish)
Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico (SEMARNAT)
YouTube video produced by SEMARNAT detailing the reintroduction (in Spanish)
Native Environmental Species Protection Law of Mexico (in Spanish)
Naturalia – Non-profit group collaborating on Mexico’s wolf reintroduction efforts