Lobos of the Southwest

Written by on August 20, 2010 in Southwest Characters - 2 Comments

The Mexican gray wolf once roamed Mexico and the southwestern U.S. by the thousands. Their soaring song could be heard echoing through the dry washes and ringing across the rugged mountain tops. Towards the turn of the century, however, high cattle stocking rates and declining populations of native prey, such as deer and elk, caused many wolves to prey on livestock. This led to intensive efforts by ranchers and government agencies to eradicate wolves in the United States. Wolves were trapped, shot, clubbed, and poisoned, and by the mid-1900s, Mexican wolves had been effectively eliminated from the United States, and populations in Mexico were severely reduced.

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), also called the Mexican wolf, or “lobo,” is the smallest, southern-most occurring, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of gray wolf in North America. They are smaller than their North American cousins (also known as the Gray Wolf), weighing between 50 and 80 pounds and measuring 5 1/2 feet from nose to tail (roughly the size of a German Shepherd). They have a distinctive, richly colored coat of buff, gray, rust and black, often with distinguishing facial patterns. Their preferred prey are elk, deer and javelina (wild pigs) and sometimes livestock. In truth, in areas where wolves and livestock coexist, such as Minnesota, Montana, and Alberta, Canada, wolves take an average of less than one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of available livestock.

Although highly variable, a typical Mexican wolf pack might consist of approximately 4 – 8 animals, with a territory encompassing up to several hundred square miles. Wolves of all species have a complex social organization, and the Mexican gray wolf is no exception. The pack is always led by an alpha or dominant pair. The alpha pair is believed to be monogamous and normally are the only breeding animals in the pack. Other members of the pack consist of several generations of pups. They have an intricate communication system that includes scent marking, body postures, and numerous vocalizations such as howling, barking, whining and growling. The characteristics howls which humans hear at a distance are most often used to gather the pack for hunts and to communicate during the hunt.

Contrary to what you might expect, Mexican gray wolves don’t live in low desert areas, but prefer mountain woodlands, probably for the cover, water availability and as a source of the favored prey animals. In February, the alpha pair mates, and the female gives birth to 4-6 pups in late April or early May.

In 1977, when the Mexican gray wolf was added to the endangered species list, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to establish a bi-national captive breeding program to save the species and to hopefully provide animals for future reintroduction to the wild. On March 29, 1998, captive-reared Mexican wolves were released to the wild for the first time in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area — part of the Apache and Gila National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico. Here, 11 of the rarest and most unique subspecies of gray wolf in the United States began an historic journey — the journey of recovery. Today, about 50 wild wolves roam the headwaters of the Gila River in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.

If you would like to learn more about the Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts and how you can help, take a look at these sites:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program

Lobos of the Southwest

2 Comments on "Lobos of the Southwest"

  1. Char Proctor August 31, 2010 at 9:22 am ·

    Very, very interesting. Excellent information and well-written.

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