Posts Tagged ‘Mexican gray wolf’

northwestern wolf

A lot of attention is being paid to the initiative that will be on the Colorado ballot this year. The question is whether the state will reintroduce wolves to Colorado, and various interests are queuing up for a rancorous debate about whether the state should begin this process.

The neighboring state of Wyoming, though, has a decent wolf population, and one argument against the reintroduction measure is that the wolves will do the reintroduction on their own. They will simply walk down from Wyoming and enter Colorado on their own.

Well, yesterday, there was news that wolf tracks were spotted in the snow in the northwestern corner of Colorado. There have also been sightings. An elk carcass has also been found, and wolf howls have been heard. So it is very likely that some wolves are now roaming Colorado, and they may be establishing a pack.

However, this does not change the debate on the ballot question, because if it is passed, these wolves will likely be joined by others.

And, it makes something else more interesting. The ballot question is about gray wolves, but there were historically two subspecies of gray wolf that roamed Colorado.

The ones in Wyoming are Northwestern wolves, but Colorado was also the northern terminus for the Mexican gray wolf’s range. If this ballot question is approved, then a real discussion should be had about restoring Mexican gray wolves to parts of southwestern Colorado.

A huge debate exists about the wolf subspecies of North America, not just with the potentially coyote introgressed “species.”  A real debate exists about whether the Northwestern wolf is the same as the Southern Rocky Mountain wolf, which was also a fairly large wolf.  This also where you get these big debates about giant Canadian wolves with the anti-wolf opposition in much of the West.

What would happen is that you probably would have a gene flow between Northwestern wolves and Mexican gray wolves, and natural selection would favor those that had the adaptations to handle the local prey.

But this probably would cause lots of issues, because Mexican gray wolves are seen as such a unique subspecies that a whole line of them was euthanized for merely showing some dog-like characteristics.

So wolf taxonomy is always an issue with recovery, even if you leave out the domestic dog and coyote introgressions.


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Minnesota is known for its successful wolf recovery program.

But the native subspecies of Canis lupus is the Great Plains wolf (C.l. nubilus.)

It is a big game hunting wolf, and it is very well adapted to the severe continental climate of the Western Great Lakes.

It is not the best place in the world for the Mexican subspecies of C. lupus. The Mexican wolf (C. l. baileyi) evolved into the southwestern US  and Mexico. Neither of those places is quite like Minnesota in the winter time.

But there are Mexican wolves in Minnesota. At Forest Lake, a wolf research facility and zoological park called the Wildlife Science Center is working to conserve this subspecies. Currently, only about 150 Mexican wolves exist, and the Wildlife Science Center is working on finding ways to better increase its numbers.

The Mexican wolf is perhaps the smallest subspecies of wolf in North America. It is a golden retriever sized wolf that could easily be mistaken for a large coyote, which can also be found in Minnesota.

This resemblance to a coyote  is not trivial, especially for one particular Mexican wolf.

As I mentioned before, the Wildlife Science Center has Mexican wolves, and it had three bitch wolves in a single enclosure. Earlier this week some hooligans broke into the facility and did a Born Free with those three wolves.

Wolves tend to be nervous animals, and one of the wolves refused to leave the enclosure. Another was found within the grounds of the facility.

And one still remains on the lam (or it is lamb?)

Now, this particular wolf has never lived in the wild. The area where this wolf was released is not in the core wolf habitat in Minnesota, and what’s worse, she looks like a coyote.

Wolves may be protected in Minnesota. Coyotes are not.

It is feared that someone might mistake this rare wolf for a coyote and shoot her.

A wolf that has spent its whole life in a pen isn’t going to know about the dangers of roads. It is even more likely that this wolf will be hit by a car.

It is hoped that this errant wolf will return to her enclosure. Road-killed deer has been placed in the pen to bring her back.

Let’s hope she does come back. Most Mexican wolves are in captivity, and their genetic diversity is quite low. This is particularly true when it was decided that a major line of these wolves were wolf-dog hybrids. This line had been kept at a facility near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Although it is not clear whether these wolves were actually hybrids or that their doggish appearance came through generations of captive breeding and being fed a domesticated animal diet, it was decided to euthanize every wolf in the line.

Every wolf in this subspecies is valuable. I don’t know why anyone would have released these wolves.  It may have been misinformed animal rights enthusiasts. Or it may have been anti-wolf extremists. Turn a wolf loose, and then the facility that keeps them gets a bad reputation.

Let’s just hope this wolf makes it back before something bad happens.


The Wildlife Science Center has been featured on television. I distinctly remember two episodes of Animal Planet’s Growing Up series were based upon animals that were being raised at the facility. It has also been featured on the History Channel’s MonsterQuest program.

Here is an example of some of the research that is performed at the center:


UPDATE: Good news. The wolf has been recaptured.

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