Linda Searles I'm Linda Searles, and I'm the Executive Director and Founder of Southwest Wildlife.
Interviewer Tell me the story behind the sanctuary and how you got started.
Linda Searles The story behind the sanctuary--I started Southwest Wildlife approximately 20 years ago, first as a rehab center, then as a sanctuary and education facilities, because as you're going through the rehab process it suddenly occurs to you that the reason that a lot of animals come into rehabs and sanctuaries is because of conflict, human wildlife conflict, and so therefore you realize you have to do education to try and prevent those and not just be putting Band-Aids on, but really trying to take those stories and utilize them and educate and learn more. And also we take veterinary interns and externs to mentor them so we have more help for our wildlife in the future.
Interviewer How many Mexican wolves do you have, and how do they come to be here?
Linda Searles We currently house 15 Mexican Gray Wolves, and those numbers go up and they go down depending on what is needed by the Mexican Gray Wolf Species Recovery Program. Every July there is a meeting and it's determined what wolves are to be bred, what wolves are to be paired up, and so each year our numbers change a little bit, but we take wolves from other breeding facilities, other holding facilities. We collect semen and "O" sites, so we do a lot of collection of genetic material to be used for future--you know the wolf's life is only so long and their reproductive years are only so long--so we try and capture that for future generations so we can keep the diversity.
Interviewer What kind of personality do these wolves have and how would you describe it?
Linda Searles The personalities of all of these wolves are… they're all different. They all have their little quirks. Basically generally all around wolves are very shy animals. When we go into the enclosures with them they'll move to the other end and wait for us to do what we need to do and then leave. Some will be more playful and more outgoing. The alpha males will be a little bit more aggressive, and not really aggressive in the way to humans, but just kind of protective of their female, and so they're a very unique species and beautiful species, but all and all very shy.
Interviewer Tell me the story of the Fox Mountain female.
Linda Searles The Fox Mountain female--it was determined last of August of 2012 that there had been depredation in the area and they felt that it was the Fox Mountain female 1188, so they called for a lethal removal of her. Once we heard about that we contacted them and we are a member of the Mexican Gray Wolf SSP and have a long history with the program, and we offered to take her. We had just recently received a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to expand our wolf enclosure, so it enabled us to have the holding capacity to take her on. And so we notified them and they were very grateful and thankful and said, "That would be wonderful," so then they rescinded the lethal removal.
Interviewer Why did you decide to take her in?
Linda Searles Each and every wolf is important and we felt that she was important, and because of the conflict we didn't feel that she should have to die for that, so we made the offer to try and save her and help the species in general.
Interviewer How would you describe her personality?
Linda Searles The personality of the Fox Mountain female is she's extremely shy. She was wild-born, which makes her more shy than the individual's that we have that have been raised in facilities and brought here, but she's extremely shy and she just wants to hide when people are around.
Interviewer Are Mexican Wolves in peril and why?
Linda Searles Mexican Gray Wolves are in peril because of man. Unfortunately as humans we tend to be reactive instead of proactive, and after they were totally extinct in the wild is when it was decided to bring them back. It's very difficult to bring back a species once it's gone, so it has offered a lot of challenges to a lot of people. But it really is a good heads-up to us that in future we other species we really need to be proactive. It's just extremely difficult to bring a species back. But it's conflict with man and livestock.
Interviewer About how many wolves are in the wild and in sanctuaries?
Linda Searles There's approximately 300 wolves in facilities between the United States and Mexico, and these are all on facilities that are holding facilities and breeding facilities. And in the wild there is approximately 75 right now.
Interviewer What is the greatest threat to Mexican Wolves?
Linda Searles The greatest threat to Mexican Gray Wolves is man--is the conflict. And I think there's a lot of wives’ tales and bad movies out there that depict wolves to be really demonic creatures when they're not. They're very shy creatures, and they're just trying to make a living. They just want to raise their puppies and live a life in the wild.
Interviewer (take 2) What is the greatest threat to Mexican Gray Wolves?
Linda Searles The greatest threat to Mexican Gray Wolves is mankind and how they're perceived. There's a lot of bad movies out there that have made them into demonic creatures, and they really aren't. They're very shy creature. They just want to make a living. And we have to find more ways to live with wildlife and resolve these conflicts that are not lethal. There's a lot of tools in the toolbox. There's a lot of methods of hazing and putting feet on the ground, and range riders to try and keep the wildlife, the wolves away from the livestock. There's also CTA, which is Conditioned Taste Aversion, which has been used with some success and I think it will have more success in the future. So we have a lot of tools in the toolbox. We just have to utilize more and find more to resolve these conflicts so we can all live together.
Interviewer What do you think about the reintroduction efforts and their future?
Linda Searles I think the future is good for Mexican Gray Wolves. I feel we have a lot of challenges still ahead of us, but I feel that as long as we're tenacious and we continue the fight, we go the distance and are prepared to go the distance, I think this will be a positive reintroduction, and I think we will have Mexican Gray Wolves in a healthy population in the wild.
Interviewer Do you think that public opinion has changed concerning the wolves over the years?
Linda Searles Public opinion of wolves over the years I think has changed dramatically. There are a lot of wolf lovers out there--a lot of people that really want to see wolves. They want to hear wolves. I think there's more wolf lovers than there are wolf haters. But we just need to keep it up and there's a lot of wives’ tales out there that have spread bad stories about wolves. You know we got the Little Red Riding Hood. There are a lot of fallacies that we have to overcome, and we'll overcome those with education, and we've made great strides.
Interviewer Wolves have been delisted in three states now in the Northern Rockies, so they're killing them. They're shooting them and trapping, and why take the effort to save a Mexican wolf down here when they're doing that in the north?
Linda Searles Well personally the delisting I find was devastating and very sad. As far as what that means to the Mexican Gray Wolves--the Mexican Gray Wolves are a smaller species. They are a very unique species, and they certainly deserve a lot of effort to bring them back and keep them protected. We need to keep them. And all of these keystone predators are so important to the health of our planet. Areas where we no longer have a healthy population of predators, we have more disease and we have too many of certain species; overpopulation of deer and not healthy deer, and many many people dying in accidents where they've hit deer because there's just so many of them. So we need to keep the balance. Each and every species is important, and in order to keep us healthy we have to keep them healthy. If all of the people disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow, the plants and the animals would be just fine. They would flourish without us. But without them man can't survive, and we need to keep that in mind. We need to realize, whether you love them or you hate them, they're important to our health, our ecosystem, and our future. And I certainly want my grandchildren to be able to hear wolves in the wild and know the same species and the same beautiful things that I've seen. They're treasures, and I want to keep those treasures for my grandkids and their children.