Once numbering in the thousands, Mexican gray wolves, or lobos, widely roamed the wilds of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico. But by the mid-1970s, after a century of persecution, lobos were wiped out in the United States. Fortunately, a few survived in Mexico and in zoos, and scientists were able to bring lobos back from the brink through captive breeding.
In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led by Jamie Rappaport Clark (now president of Defenders of Wildlife) released 11 Mexican wolves back into the wild in Arizona. But their numbers have grown slowly, and they still remain the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the entire world.
Why They’re Important
El lobo was once “top dog” in the borderlands, and when the wolf population returns to healthy numbers, biologists believe that lobos will restore balance to the Southwest’s ecosystems by keeping deer, elk and javelina—or wild pig—populations healthy and in check. Wolves strengthen these animals by preying on the old, sick and young, and prevent their populations from growing so numerous that they overgraze and destroy habitat that countless other species depend on.
Misconceptions and myths are the biggest problems for lobos. Despite the facts that Mexican gray wolves are responsible for less than one percent of livestock deaths each year and have never attacked a person, they are often resented and feared in communities near the recovery area in southern Arizona and New Mexico. While a majority of people in those states support wolf recovery, illegal killings continue to be the leading cause of death for lobos. The small population is also threatened by inbreeding, catastrophic events like diseases and fires, and by the lack of a scientifically sound plan for their expansion and recovery.
What Defenders Is Doing to Help Mexican Gray Wolves
For many years Defenders of Wildlife has been working with ranchers to minimize conflict between livestock and wolves. We also serve on the Interdiction Stakeholder Council, a pilot effort to help promote these kinds of coexistence efforts. Our work with the White Mountain Apache tribe on ecotourism helps create ecomonic opportunities tied to healthy wolf populations.
Defenders serves on the federal recovery team for Mexican gray wolves and we promote federal, state and local policies that help wolves recover. And we sponsor many events to educate the public and get them involved in efforts to help save lobos.