This year marks 25 years of the Mexican gray wolf back in the wild. This wolf’s continued recovery would not be possible without on-the-ground wildlife technicians. Sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife, these techs are hired to support activities of the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan on a state and federal level.
Wolf techs camped out to help Mexican gray wolves spend their time in acclimation pens prior to the first release in 1998. Today, they still trek the wilderness for the wolf’s sake. These are the field notes from techs enrolled from October 2022 to March 2023.
We learned how to identify wolf tracks and signs, how to use telemetry to listen for collared wolves, how to set up trail cameras and use them to keep up to date on pack activity. Although it felt a bit overwhelming at first, my excitement has continued to grow each day for this position. I feel so honored to have joined the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program and I'm overjoyed to aid in the conservation of these amazing animals.
- Savannah Cantrell
The first videos we saw of the pack on a trail camera were so exciting. The whole family of seven made an appearance. It was an incredibly cool experience to be out in their territory, scouting their tracks and seeing them on camera. Out in the forest, it’s abundantly clear that you are in their world. Despite all our best intentions, the wolves did what the wolves wanted, and the successes we had came with a healthy dose of luck.
- Grace Dougan
Coming up a steep hillside, I looked to my left and there they were: Six gorgeous wolves, their fur thick and long, already grown in for the winter. It was an incredible start to the month, and in retrospect, the experience may have led me to set some unrealistic expectations.
All this to say, time and time again I am reminded of the intelligence and complexity of wolves. Studying them is no easy feat, they always seem to be a step ahead.
- Grace Dougan
After three attempts to locate one pack, I finally caught them on one of my game cameras and verified that they had a pup with them. I greatly enjoy the thrill of the hunt and am thoroughly enjoying these challenges. They are helping me hone skills, which I intend to use for many years moving forward. Here’s to hoping for more victories in this game of hide and seek for the month of December!
- Christopher Martin
Snow does change quite a few things about the job. First of all, snow poses hazards. On the plus side, snow makes tracking a lot easier. Unless you’re really experienced, I don’t think that most people can distinguish different prints in dry sediments like sand or dirt. This time served as a great learning opportunity, as the differences among different animals are far more apparent, since the snow makes such a distinctive imprint. Wolf prints are a lot bigger than you would think!
- Andrew Craton
During helicopter operations, a crew takes to the sky to confirm head counts of packs and to capture wolves that need a collar. Once wolves are safely captured, they are transported to the ground crew (where I was!). I was lucky enough to get to carry a wolf from the helicopter to our processing area, which was a highlight of the operations for me. Capturing wolves helps us to not only monitor diseases within the population, but it also allows us to vaccinate the wolves. This increases overall disease immunity in the population. Genetics are important to monitor, because the population size of the subspecies is still relatively small. It’s important for biologists to know who is related to who, so we don’t have any family members getting a little too friendly with one another.
- Savannah Cantrell
A new facet of the job came in the form of breeding observations at the nearby Sevilleta Captive Facility. The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program uses genetics from captive-born pups to boost the genetic diversity of the wild population. This is done by inserting captive pups into wild litters. Knowing the timing of the conception of captive litters is essential, as each litter must be born within a few days of one another.
- Ryan Hennessey