Return of the Wolves:The Next Chapter

Maggie Dwire

Maggie Dwire
Wolves2/KUED
 
Maggie Dwire
My name is Maggie Dwire. I'm the Assistant Recovery Coordinator for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program.
 
Interviewer
What will we be seeing here today, the processing?
 
Maggie Dwire
Today we're at the Seviletta Wolf Management facility, which is a prerelease facility for Mexican Wolves on the Seviletta National Wildlife Refuge. And the purpose of being here today is to catch a couple of female wolves to draw some blood to determine if they're pregnant.
 
Interviewer
What's the difference between this facility and another?
 
Maggie Dwire
The difference between pre-released facilities and other zoos or wildlife sanctuaries that house Mexican wolves is pretty vast. At the pre-released facilities we try to minimize their contact with humans as much as possible, so at some of the other facilities in our Captive Breeding program they tend to get observations of their wolves every day. They tend to feed them every day, and a lot of the zoos, they can shift the animals on and off exhibit in the morning and at night, and here it's a complete 180 from that. We tend to feed them every three to five days to mimic the feast and famine diet that a wild wolf would have, and we try to stay out of the facility as much as possible. Usually it's just one caretaker going in to provide the food and water, so their exposure to humans is significantly limited.
 
Interviewer
How many wolves do you have here?
 
Maggie Dwire
We have 14 wolves currently at the Seviletta Wolf Management facility.
 
Interviewer
And how many of those are expected to be turned into the wild?
 
Maggie Dwire
Of the 14 wolves that are at this facility, all of them are candidates for release to the wild.
 
Interviewer
Can you give us a brief history of the recovery effort here?
 
Maggie Dwire
So like in other areas of the lower 48, when human settlement intensified in the Southwest, wolves came into increasing contact with livestock, and that contact led to conflicts, and a very successful anti-predator campaign pretty much all but eliminated the Mexican Wolf from the landscape. By the 1970s we sent a trapper down into Mexico to capture the last remaining wild wolves, and those wolves were used to establish a captive breeding program that exists today.
 
Interviewer
How do you make a wolf wild that has come from a captive breeding program?
 
Maggie Dwire
The most proven way in retaining an animal's wildness, if that is a term, is to really reduce their exposure to humans. A lot of the wolves that come from the captive breeding program are on exhibit at zoos, or even at other wildlife sanctuaries that have people coming through for tours once a week or so. And so what we do when an animal comes to a pre-release facility is we really back off. We don't capture them unless we need to, for administering vaccines or for medical reasons. We only enter the facility to provide food on a pretty limited basis--you know every three to five days to mimic the feast and famine diet of a wolf in the wild, and you'd be surprised at just removing their routine exposure to humans how much that retains an animal's wildness.
 
Interviewer
Where do these wolves come from that are here?
 
Maggie Dwire
The wolves at the Seviletta pre-release facility are usually born here at this stage. Early on a lot of them came from the other zoos and captive breeding programs, but as of late most of the animals are actually born here. As we go forward with more released we will need to bring in other animals from the captive program again and start over. We'll have them breed at this facility and use those offspring for release to the wild.
 
Interviewer
Talk about that process. You're going to catch this wolf. Tell me how you're going to do it.
 
Maggie Dwire
So today the process will be, we'll take about 15 people into the enclosure and we'll form a human wall and we'll use the wolf's fear of humans to our advantage. Their primary goal will be to get away from us, and our primary goal will be to move the wall through the enclosure such that the animal becomes limited to where they can go. Then we have capture boxes strategically placed in the enclosure, and by moving this human wall through the pen we can pretty much force them to go into those capture boxes. And then we can close the door and open the lid and then we'll pin the animal down and we'll put a muzzle on it and cover it's eyes and try to reduce the stimulus to animal as much as possible, and then we'll draw blood that will be used for the pregnancy tests.
 
Interviewer
Tell me about how wolves behave in this circumstance, the timidity that they have. Tell me a little bit about their personality--how do they react to this kind of a stress?
 
Maggie Dwire
When the capture crew enters the facility you'll see a lot of panic in the wolves. They'll run and jump against the fence in some cases and pretty much be pacing the enclosures doing anything they can to get away. Once we get the animal contained in a capture box or underneath a tree you'll see that they almost give up. Once they're in a situation that they can't escape from they become, what some people perceive, as very docile. I like to maybe refer to it more as paralyzed with fear. They tend to be fairly easy to handle because their response to it is so paralyzing.
 
Interviewer
How would you say that's different from the reputation that wolves have?
 
Maggie Dwire ***
A lot of people view wolves as demonic, aggressive killers, and I think you'll see today when humans enter their enclosure they kind of want to be as far away from us as possible.
 
Interviewer
How do they react when trapped?
 
Maggie Dwire
Generally when we're running traps for animals in the wild, like if we want to place a radio collar on an uncollared wolf or if we want to mark wolves that we don't have marked, we'll run trap lines for those animals, and oftentimes you can catch other things like mountain lions or bobcats, and I would say from at least my personal experience, a wolf is one of the easier animals to handle out of a trap-the same situation in that once they feel they've been defeated and they can't escape, a lot of times they hunker down.
 
Interviewer
Talk about the Fox Mountain female and how she came to go to the Conservation Center?
 
Maggie Dwire
The Fox Mountain female was removed from the wild. She was captured in a leg-hold trap and taken to this facility, the Seviletta Wolf Management facility, where we held her for a while to make sure she was ok in captivity. We don't want to send a wolf to another breeding institution that's not ready for captivity yet. So we held her here for a while and monitored her behavior and her medical condition. She was fine, and we ended up transferring her to the Southwest Center shorty after that.
 
Interviewer
What did she actually do to get in trouble and what was that process?
 
Maggie Dwire
The Fox Mountain pack had been depredating cattle, and it got to the point where a lot of our proactive management activities didn't seem to be working. We were running into a situation where we needed to alter the pack's behavior. And a lot of times removing an animal from a pack can alter the pack's behavior, so we decided that we would remove one of the animals from that pack and we looked at the genetics of the wild population and determined that the female was pretty redundant to the wild population and it would actually be better if that male bred a different female, so we chose the alpha female of that pack for that reason. And so we set traps for the female and we captured her and removed her from the wild.
 
Interviewer
Tell me a little bit about the control actions. Why do those happen?
 
Maggie Dwire
We have a commitment to managing the wild population in a way that minimizes their impact to the people on the landscape. Mexican Wolves are being released onto forest service lands that are public use, there's multi-use, and we have to be very cognizant of the impacts that they are having to people. A lot of the impact that we see in the Southwest is to the livestock production…
 
Interviewer
We were talking about the control actions, how an animal gets in trouble and what your commitment is to the livestock interests.
 
Maggie Dwire
We have a commitment to managing wolves that get into trouble, whether it's animals that become nuisance problems or depredating wolves. We're committed to trying to reduce the impacts that these animals are having on the people that are dealing with wolves. We've produced several documents from SOPs to management plans that kind of script how we react to certain situations, but by and large we try to reduce the potential for wolves to depredate, whether that's helping livestock producers manage their cattle differently, or whether it's managing wolves differently. And if we do get into situations where wolves become problem animals, we look for ways to reduce the potential for those problems to continue to occur, and in cases where we exhaust all of those efforts and we can't get the depredations to stop, a lot of times we do have to go to efforts to either move the pack, the offending pack, to a different area, or in some cases remove animals if necessary.
 
Interviewer
What's the process to returning the wolf to the wild from Seviletta? Is there an intermediate step and finally a release? How does that work?
 
Maggie Dwire
The pre-release facilities, like the Seviletta Wolf Management facility are sort of a halfway house between being a captive wolf and being a wild wolf. We will bring wolves from the captive breeding program into this facility and monitor their behavior, their reproductive potential, how they get along with other wolves. We'll try to put them in a pair or a pack setting that will be beneficial to a wild population, and we really tease out which animals we think will be good release candidates. And once we get down to a pair or a pack that we think will be good we evaluate release sites in the wild, make sure that there aren't other wolves in the area. We work with our partners to find good reintroduction sites, and those partners can be state agencies, other federal agencies and tribes, and the local people on the ground. We work with a lot of people to determine what is a suitable release and what are suitable wolves for release?
 
Interviewer
Is there a short-term goal and a long-term goal?
 
Maggie Dwire
The short-term goal for wolf recovery, Mexican Wolf recovery, is to achieve what our 1982 recovery plan says, and that is at least 100 wolves in the wild. When that recovery plan was written, it in no way was meant to be what is down-listing or de-listing criteria for the Mexican Wolf; it even says so in that plan, that the goal of that plan is to just establish wolves in captivity and in the wild to save the animal from extinction. And in 2012 our wild population was about 75. Our captive population is about 300, and so we're pretty close to meeting the original objective of that 1982 plan. So the future for Mexican Wolf recovery is to decide what down-listing and de-listing criteria is so we can move forward in recovering the subspecies.
 
Interviewer
I'm going to ask that again. Why is what you're doing important?
 
Maggie Dwire ***
The Mexican Wolf was completely eradicated form the wild in the United States, and when recovery efforts began there were only a handful of wolves in the wild in Mexico. A trapper went into Mexico to capture the last remaining wolves, and those were brought into start the captive breeding program that exists today. When the Endangered Species Act came along, that's what turned the tables for Mexican Wolves. They went from an anti-predator campaign, where we were actively trying to remove these predators, to trying to save the animal from extinction. So the Endangered Species Act is really what bore the efforts to Mexican Wolf recovery specifically. Mexican Wolves and other wolves are an important part of the landscape. They're the top predator. They're an important part of the ecosystem, and the way an ecosystem functions. And they deserve a spot on the landscape.
 
Interviewer
What would you say to people that say, that time has gone. There aren't enough wild spaces for wolves.
 
Maggie Dwire
I would disagree that there aren't enough wild spaces for wolves. Wolves do require a large area to be recovered, but I would disagree that those areas are gone. It would be disappointing to me if that were the case.
 
Interviewer
(take 2) What would you say to people that say there aren't enough wild spaces for wolves?
 
Maggie Dwire ***
I would disagree that there aren't enough wild spaces for wolves. Wolves do require a lot of space. In order to be a functioning population of wolves they do have to have a lot of land. There does have to be a lot of wolves within that population. But I would disagree that there isn't enough area. I would be really disappointed if we felt that way.
 
Interviewer
Can you talk about the problem with genetics and the Southwest wolves?
 
Maggie Dwire
The Mexican wolf dwindled within seven animals of extinction, so when this population started there were only seven animals, so it began at a disadvantage, and we can selectively breed wolves in captivity for release to the wild to continue to improve the gene diversity of the current wild population, as well as other wild populations that become established in the future. But it is something we have to think about. We have to actively look for different genes to put into the populations, whereas in the Northern Rockies or the Yellowstone introduction they were able to go up into Canada and pull wild wolves out of Canada and release them in Yellowstone and not have such a significant problem.
 
Interviewer
(take 2) Can you talk about the genetic challenges that you face?
 
Maggie Dwire
The Mexican Wolf dwindled within seven animals of extinction, so when recovery started we were already at a disadvantage. The differences between us and the Northern Rockies program per se is that they were able to go into Canada and capture wild wolves and bring them down into Yellowstone and the Idaho wilderness, and the wolves that were released there were connected, through Northwest Montana back through Canada, to a large population of wolves, so they don't have the genetic issues. The Mexican Wolf, because we're starting with such a dispopular population, we have to actively manage which wolves’ breed in captivity and which wolves are selected for release to the wild based on what's already in the wild. And we'll never be connected to a larger population of anything other than more Mexican Wolves that came from this exact population. So we do have to concentrate pretty hard on which animals are selected for release to the wild.

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