So-so year for wolves; otters get second look

Wolf2 © 2006 Larry Allen

By Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair

Wolves
The wolf population count for 2011 is in. Despite nine known Mexican wolf deaths last year and the fires and the drought, 2011 was not a bad year for wolves. The official count is up to 58, which is eight more in the wild than at the end of 2010. Arizona has 32 and New Mexico 26.

To qualify as a breeding pair, two wolves must have at least two pups who survive until the end of the year, and this year there are six pairs who qualify, as opposed to only two pairs last year. All together 18 new pups were still alive at the time of end-of-year count.

While the numbers are up, six breeding pairs still represent only 12 wolves that are producing the future generations — a minuscule number that clearly shows lobos are still teetering on survival. Interestingly, of the 58 wolves in the wild today, 52 were born in the wild and have never been in captivity.

Taste-aversion trials are underway with captive wolves who are eligible for release and who could further boost the genetic diversity of the existing wild population. They are being fed beef laced with a compound that is tasteless and odorless but that will make them temporarily ill. The idea is for these wolves to associate the eating of beef with being sick so they will know that
beef is not what’s for dinner.

Compared to other causes of livestock death, predation ranks very low and predation by wolves even lower, but if it works, it could be something parent wolves pass down to offspring, creating entire packs that don’t prey on livestock. A pack like that might garner protection from everyone, including ranchers.

Mexico released five Mexican wolves into the wild in Sonora just south of the border a few months ago, but officials have confirmed sadly that four of the five are dead already from poisoning, possibly a rodent poison, but the circumstances surrounding the deaths are not clear. The now lone female is still surviving on rodents and rabbits.

So far, no plans have been revealed to add more wolves to the wild in Mexico, but officials say they intend to carry on with lobo recovery there.

Otters
Otter reintroduction also came to the forefront recently when New Mexico
Game and Fish declared the agency no longer supported bringing otters back
to the Gila River. The last known otter died there in the early 1950s in a trap
set for beaver. At issue are some endangered fish. Otters are known to eat all
kinds of fish, but they seem to more enjoy non-native carp, crayfish, and
bullfrogs instead. These invaders don’t coexist with native fish in a positive
way, and otters might be just the ticket to restoring the balance helping the
imperiled natives to thrive. In a surprising turn, at the February meeting, the
Game Commission decided to overrule the Department and continue to examine
the pros and cons of bringing otters back to the Gila.

Otter reintroduction in the upper Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico has been very successful. To help, you can write New Mexico Game and Fish and tell them you support returning otters to the Gila too. Send an email to: ispa@state.nm.us.