Wolf Technicians Roll Up
Their Sleeves to Support Mexican Gray Wolves
Wolf Awareness Week is an opportunity to highlight the wolf species that once thrived in nearly every corner of North America. Today, we are featuring the Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf that was reintroduced to the American southwest in 1998, and Defenders work in the field to support this magnificent animal.
We at Defenders coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team to support a wildlife technician program. The technicians, who are often recent conservation graduates, work alongside state and federal wildlife managers to monitor the subspecies and implement conflict-reduction tools that are critical to the Mexican gray wolf’s success in the wild.
The work these technicians do is instrumental to recovery efforts. From field camera monitoring to helicopter counts to cross-fostering captive-born pups into wild litters, so the genetic pool is diversified, they support all levels of Mexican gray wolf restoration work.
We are lucky that some of these technicians are allowing us a peek into their 2023 summer season journal entries in hopes that it will inspire others to learn more about their work and to take action to support Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest.
“I spent a lot of time resupplying food caches for our cross-foster packs and checking cameras across various mountain ranges in New Mexico. The highlight of these tasks is, without a doubt, seeing wolf pups show on camera. It is great to see high survival rates in the pups of the cross-foster packs and overall amazing to witness the pups grow and interact with each other – it is as adorable as it sounds.” - Chelsey Taylor
“Field work is hard; it usually never goes right, it takes ten times longer than you thought it would, something breaks... and yet as I write this, I am sitting under a double rainbow camping out for the night while looking for wolves. While camping, I had a group of hunters ask if I was a wildlife biologist. To my pleasant surprise, these hunters couldn’t have been more excited that the wolves were on the landscape and wanted to know all about how they were affecting the ecosystem.
It was a nice reminder to me that there is a wide variety of wolf advocates out there hoping for their successful recovery.” - Makayla Golden
“We have started seeing puppies on food caches which has been incredible; one pack has seven and the other has at least six. They all look like healthy, happy pups. It has been very cool to watch that trail camera footage and watch the metacommunication and body language as well as being able to hear communication between pack members.” - Sean Gordon
“We made our rounds of checking the traps and the last one had a pup in it! Our goal for this trapping trip was to find and collar a cross-foster pup from this pack, so this was good news! ... We took the next hour to inspect his condition, fit him for a radio collar, vaccinate him and collect blood samples. Once we were finished, we moved him a short distance so he could be closer to the area where we could hear his pack howling from.” - Chelsey Taylor
Cross-fostered pups are radio-collared by wolf technicians at the end of each summer. Often times, these field assistants reunite with the captive-bred pups they directly placed into the wild wolf dens earlier this year. Trapping a wolf is no easy task. These experts have to get into the mind of their subjects and be sure of their movements or else they’ve created another day’s work.
“We had to get in the wolves’ head and try to stay one step ahead of their movements. The same investigative thrill I felt my first days in the field back in April came back full force as we tracked their movements and discerned what would be the most appealing place for a wolf... and for the love of God do not get your scent everywhere. Wolves are smart creatures, don’t underestimate them. The wolves had moved out of the area, and it became a game of luck and patience. However, on the second to last day, we were about to let the wolves win this round, then we caught one. We were ecstatic. He was a 61-pound yearling and feisty. It was a great experience to try my hand at processing in the wild.” - Anna Resek
Wolf technicians have hard jobs: equipment may become defective, weather forces last-minute changes to schedules or something important is lost somewhere in the vast wilderness. One technician, Makayla Golden, reported losing her truck keys on her and her way to check trail cams in heavy rain.
After trekking back to the truck only to discover the unfortunate misplacement, Golden called for help and had to wait two hours for backup to arrive. As the storm continued to prevail, Golden and the colleague who came to help decided an impromptu overnight stay in the mountains would be the best (and safest) course of action instead of driving back to the station.
“All mistakes that could have been easily avoided, but there is nothing like a tough field day to teach or reteach you a good lesson,” Golden wrote.