Sometimes it pays to get up in the middle of the night, drive through the dark cold loneliness of a December morning, and wait in freezing temperatures to enter a wolf den (well okay, a wolf pen).
That’s what I did while researching my story, Lobos in Limbo: The Halting Recovery of the Mexican Wolf, which recently won a Genesis Award from the Humane Society of the United States for outstanding online reporting and creative portrayal of animal protection issues in 2018.
The family of wolves I saw that bitterly cold day were captive – held in an enclosure at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico – but wild at heart. They were part of a captive breeding program to reintroduce this subspecies of the gray wolf back into the New Mexico and Arizona, a seemingly Herculean effort. Successful reintroduction requires building viable populations of a top predator amidst ranch land, starting from only seven individual animals that remained in 1977. Although the father, mother, and two teenage youngsters I saw that day had spent most or all of their life in the two-acre enclosure, they panicked at the sight of people approaching. Our nets, boards, and other equipment were clearly designed to corner and capture them. They raced frantically around the fence line trying to escape, leaping higher than I ever imagined a wolf could leap. In the end, their athletic efforts were fruitless. Biologists caught and examined each one before transporting them to a new facility.
Since then, the number of wild Mexican wolves in the American West has increased, to 131 individuals spread across southern New Mexico and Arizona. This, despite a record number of killings and deaths this past year. The recovery is indeed halting and the future of such a small population remains tenuous.
To learn more about Mexican wolf recovery, read my Earth Touch News article here (credit for the video goes to the Earth Touch staff). And if you’d like to follow my experience in the wolf enclosure on that cold December morning, check out my blog post here; a kind of stream of consciousness that I hope brings that morning to life for readers.
I’m honored to be a recipient of the Humane Society’s Genesis Award, and thrilled to be able to share stories like this with a wide audience. Thanks for being a valuable part of that audience.