We have some amazing interns working on Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts who are instrumental in every step of the process, from field camera monitoring to one of the most successful cross-fostering events! To make this happen, Defenders teamed-up with the California Wolf Center, a captive breeding facility for Mexican gray wolves, to support a field internship program, where volunteers with experience in biology and wildlife management help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department to monitor wolves and implement conflict-reduction tools and techniques to give our lobos the greatest chance of success in the wild.
The beginning of the month started off with us attempting to find a suitable pack(s) to cross foster some newborn puppies into. I myself attempted to see if I could determine if the Lava pack alpha female was denning. I was under the impression that she was denning based on my telemetry readings, however we ended up cross-fostering two puppies (one male and one female) into the San Mateo pack instead. This was the second time I had been present during a cross-foster since joining this program, however this time around I unexpectedly was able to have hands on experience with the puppies and help the biologist with processing all the captive born and wild puppies. The biologist was able to successfully extract the five wild born puppies from the den so we could process them with the two captive born puppies together. I was lucky enough to be assigned as a data recorder while the biologists called off various health related data for all seven of the puppies that were going to be placed back into the den. It was a very surreal experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed and hope to be a part of again in the future. Below is a pic of me and one of the captive-born puppies, prior to us backpacking them up to the processing area (near the den) to join their new siblings.
Once the cross-foster was completed, the rest of the first half of the month consisted mainly with checking cameras, and restocking food caches. The last half of the month also consisted mainly of food caches, however there were days I completed various other tasks. I was able to help set up a RAG box on a gentleman’s ranch that would alert his family if wolves from the area were getting close to his ranch. I was also able to get experience with sign searching for uncollared wolves. I believe I have gotten better this month at differentiating wolf tracks/scat apart from their canid counterparts (coyotes, foxes, dogs etc) although I am always looking to improve my skills. I look forward to the next chapter with this program and the new growth and experiences that are to come!
- Christian Guajardo
This month I learned that just when you think you’ve hit your stride, something will come along and mess with that status quo. But a shake up here is always an opportunity for adventure.
The month started out fairly routine; most of my work involved checking food caches and trail cameras. I traversed the mountain roads of New Mexico and Arizona, taking in some beautiful vistas. However, mid-May brought the first opportunity to adapt to change. It was my turn to walk in on the den with the biologists, vets, and the pup to be introduced. The day started off like most cross-fosters, albeit chillier and rainier than usual: the biologists walked in early to scout out the den while I greeted the rest of our crew and the people from the Wolf Conservation Center in New York, who had the pup. However, we soon learned something important: wolf mothers hate going outside in the cold and rain just as much as many humans. Mom wasn’t budging from the den, and Dad was howling up a storm in the distance. No problem; we had a backup den in Arizona to try out. Four and a half hours later, we’re hauling our way up a steep mountain face to den number two. Unfortunately, this mother wolf didn’t want to leave her pups in the cold any more than the first one did. The team debated our options for a long time: do we attempt to introduce the pup under the mother’s nose, risking harm to the animal? Or does the New York crew bring the pup back home with them, sentencing her to live out her life in captivity? After a long talk, all the staff agreed to try and introduce the pup. So, I held the pup as she was prepared for pit tagging — easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever done — and then the biologists carefully lowered her into the den. We held our breath. And then the pup started nursing under Mom’s nose! One collective sigh of relief and several minutes of watching the captive-bred puppy nurse with her new adoptive siblings, and we trekked back down the mountain with hard-earned grins.
Just this past week, I had yet another surprise when I got called in at the last minute to help haze a pair of problem wolves for a couple days near the San Carlos Apache Reservation. I spent Friday evening throwing food and gear together and drove for six hours on Saturday to meet one of the techs for a weekend of hard work. I didn’t get much sleep and spent a lot of time trailing the wolves. But as I worked for hours and hours to chase the wolves out of the pasture, I had the occasional privilege of speaking to some locals and getting the slightest introduction to the layout of the reservation. I also got to see some new wildlife: my first bighorn sheep herd of the season, and some small white-tailed deer. The weekend was exhausting but fulfilling.
Our final — and most fun — shakeup came last week with two new interns. While we’re still on the hard learning curve ourselves, we now have the challenge of communicating what we already know to others. But all our movie nights, game nights, and intern dinners have become even more fun with some fresh faces. Welcome to the team, and here’s to another crazy month!
- Ben Breslau
This month I spent a lot of time searching for uncollared wolves in various locations within the study area. While driving slowly down dirt roads, constantly scanning for scat and foot prints may not sound fun, I find it quite exciting and a great opportunity to listen to funny or educational podcasts. Being out in nature, breathing in the clear air, coming across other animals, and getting to see the tiny calves are all perks to doing something like uncollared searching, which by itself could be considered tedious or uneventful While the surprising snow fell around me, I diligently scrounged around the surrounding draws and road for the perfect tree to set up a trail camera on. I can’t wait to see if the camera catches anything.
There is nothing more rewarding than finding out that where I placed a food cache or a trail camera has pictures of wolves. One of the wolves has been eluding me all month. I’ve gone to her home range and driven around for hours listening intently to her frequency for a signal, but after a two-day wild goose chase I left defeated.
I look forward to seeing what June has in store.
- Megan Huggins
As May has progressed most of the wolf packs with breeding females have transitioned to denning and, consequently, my tasks have shifted from hazing wolves to resupplying food caches.
These caches serve a dual purpose of keeping the pack’s attention focused away from areas where they could be cause trouble or be harmed and providing a supplemental food supply for mother wolves with up to eight hungry mouths to feed! Now all of the pups in the recovery area are still cuddling together with their siblings in a den, but we are eagerly awaiting the day when these pups begin venturing further from their den and start showing up on our trail cameras.
May started out similarly to how April ended, with the stress and excitement of cross fosters. With a few cross fosters in the first two weeks of the May it seemed like everything we did revolved around preparing for them, whether it be den searching or conference calls. After we reached our cap on cross fosters the month began to slow down a bit.
The rest of the month was a lot less wolf pups and conference calls and much more food caches, telemetry and uncollared sign search. I began to hit my stride with food caches getting the routes and technique down to a science. I also began to recognize wolves on camera from quick glimpses. I even saw nine wolves on camera for a pack we believed only had seven.
A large proportion of the rest of the month was also dedicated to searching for a wolf that had split from her pack and had been roaming a large area, often into other packs territory. I dedicated three entire days to searching for her with very little success.
This month I also learned how to do some equipment maintenance such as boiling traps to remove our scent from them. It was a long process that ended up taking the entire day, but I gained a lot of experience testing and operating the traps.
Wolf issues began to die down my second month as denning commenced. I started the month night hazing on a land owner’s propery north of Luna. At the end of the first week of May, I helped with a crossfoster event.
The following week I programmed multiple ranch recievers, listened for various wolves, and re-baited multiple food caches. I also helped with another crossfoster event.
I had time to explore different areas with other interns on my days off. Austin and I went to Blue Vista Lookout and El Malpais National Monument.
The following week I programmed a ranch receiver, listened for multiple wolves, and went on multiple Sellvieta log runs. The new interns also arrived at the end of the week.On my next days off I hiked and explored in different areas around Pinetop-Lakeside/ Show Low.
I spent the next week training Sujay and Corey, the new summer interns. We re-baited multiple food caches, listened for and located a wolf, went through SD cards, and practiced daily responsibilities. My following days off I went with a combination of interns to explore the Pinetop-Lakeside/Show Low area.