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In This Issue
- Partner Projects: Mexican wolf population rises to at least 163 animals
- Wild Arizona: Great-horned owls, nestlings putting on show
- Walk on the Wild Side: Cibola Valley Conservation and Wildlife Area
- AZGFD Biologists at Work: Tom Jones, amphibians and reptiles program manager
- Fun Facts: Arizona’s bats
- Video of the Month: ‘Tis the season for rattlesnakes
The wild population of Mexican wolves continues to grow at a healthy pace. The recent Mexican wolf count shows the population of Mexican wolves has increased by 24 percent since last year, raising the total number of wolves in the wild to a minimum of 163 animals.
That number is among the findings of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT), a task force comprising federal, state, tribal and international partners. From November 2019 through January 2020, the team conducted ground counts in Arizona and New Mexico that concluded with aerial counts of Mexican wolves in January and February.
According to the IFT, the 163 wolves are distributed with 76 in Arizona and 87 in New Mexico. Last year, the team documented 131 wolves at the end of 2018, which was a 12 percent increase from 2017. This population has increased an average of 15 percent annually in the last 10 years.
“The count shows we have more wolves, more breeding pairs and more pups born in the wild than ever before,” said Amy Lueders, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, N.M. “This is the second year we have seen a significant increase in the wild population of Mexican wolves, a success that is directly tied to the science-based, on-the-ground management efforts of the Interagency Field Team.”
Among the 2019 findings:
- At the end of 2019, there were a minimum of 42 packs of wolves (including 11 new pairs), plus 10 individuals. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves that maintain an established territory.
- A minimum of 21 of the 28 packs the IFT was monitoring in spring of 2019 had pups; 19 of these packs had pups that survived to the end of the year.
- A minimum of 90 pups were born in 2019, and at least 52 survived to the end of the year (a 58 percent survival rate). Average survival of Mexican wolf pups is around 50 percent.
- The IFT documented 14 mortalities in the wild population of Mexican wolves in 2019. This is a 33 percent decrease from documented mortalities (21) in 2018.
During the aerial count, biologists captured 21 wolves and fitted them with new GPS tracking collars. This brings the number of collared wolves in the wild to 103 (63 percent of the known population). These radio collars use satellite technology to accurately record wolf locations on a frequent basis. Biologists on the IFT use this information to gain timely information about wolf behavior in the wild and assist with management of the wild population.
In 2019, the IFT placed 12 captive-born pups into five wild dens (a process called “cross fostering”) to boost the genetic variability in the wild population. The IFT has since captured and collared two of these pups and will continue efforts in 2020 to document others that may have survived. Since the first cross-fostering of Mexican wolf pups in 2014, the IFT has documented a minimum of nine cross-fostered pups recruited into the population and currently alive. Four cross-fostered wolves have survived to breeding age, resulting in multiple litters of genetically diverse pups born in the wild. Three more cross-fostered wolves will reach breeding age in April of 2020.
“The numbers highlight the wolf’s progress in the wild,” said Jim deVos, assistant director of wildlife management for the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). “The results of this census are very important as they reflect the great progress being made in the recovery of the Mexican wolf in the U.S. The increase in the Mexican wolf population is not an isolated year, but rather a continuum of increases over the last 10 years.”
The Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. It is listed separately from the gray wolf (Canis lupus) as an endangered subspecies under the federal Endangered Species Act. Once common throughout portions of the southwestern United States and Mexico, it was all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s.
Working with the Mexican government, the Service in 1977 began developing a captive breeding program to restore the wolf’s numbers. It started with seven wolves, aiming for the day the program could release wolves into the wild. That day came in 1998, when the Service, in cooperation with AZGFD, released 11 wolves within a range called the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area in Arizona and New Mexico. In 2011, the program expanded to Mexico with the release of wolves in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Mexico currently estimates there are approximately 30 Mexican wolves in the Sierra Madre Occidental.
In November 2017, the Service completed a revised Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, after working with state agencies and other partners. The recovery plan uses the best available science to chart a path forward for the Mexican wolf that can be accommodated within the subspecies’ historical range in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. This revised plan provides measurable and objective criteria for successful recovery. When those goals are met, the Service will be able to remove the Mexican wolf from the list of endangered species and turn management over to the states.
In addition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and AZGFD, partners in the recovery program include the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), USDA Forest Service (USFS), USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services (USDA-APHIS WS), White Mountain Apache Tribe (WMAT), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS).
A great-horned owl’s nest, tucked high in the wooden rafters of a pole barn at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, just got a little more crowded.
After patiently sitting on the nest since early February, an adult female has been joined by a pair of nestlings that hatched last month, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) officials. As the female owl begins to raise her young brood, her mate has been diligent in delivering prey to the nest.
“It’s an exciting time for the department’s wildlife-viewing program,” said Jeff Meyers, watchable wildlife program manager. “Our first live-streaming camera trained on a great-horned owl’s nest is giving us a glimpse into the breeding, hatching, rearing and fledging habits of these beautiful and powerful birds of prey.
“It has been a great show, and we anticipate it to get even better over the next few weeks as the owlets grow and become more visible to the live-streaming camera.”
It’s a show that wildlife enthusiasts won’t want to miss, especially for those who might be staying home more than usual these days. Growing tired of watching the same old TV programming or Netflix reruns? AZGFD’s owl camera allows for an intimate, unedited glimpse into the daily lives of these fascinating birds.
The owl camera also provides a unique educational activity that parents can share with children at home. Note: As with nature, viewers may witness a variety of behaviors that may seem cruel, such as feeding on other animals. Viewer discretion is advised.
Wildlife viewing is a great way to stay connected to the outdoors. In addition to the owl camera, AZGFD offers live-streaming views of wintering sandhill cranes (also at Whitewater Draw, near McNeal), a nesting pair of bald eagles at Lake Pleasant, endangered desert pupfish at Mesa Community College, and roosting bats at Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area (arriving later in the spring).
As for the owls, Meyers said both adults share in the feeding of their young, which are expected to fledge (develop wing feathers that are large enough for flight) in early May.
AZGFD’s live-streaming owl camera was funded by the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation (AZSFWC). For more information about the department’s live-streaming cameras and other wildlife-viewing opportunities, visit www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/.
The Cibola Valley Conservation and Wildlife Area (CVCWA) is located in the Cibola Valley within the historic floodplain of the lower Colorado River, north of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.
CVCWA features more than 1,300 acres of agricultural fields and undeveloped land planted with native vegetation to restore cottonwood/willow, mesquite and desert upland habitats. The land and water rights are leased to the Bureau of Reclamation until 2055 as a part of the lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, which was created to balance the use of the Colorado River water resources with the conservation of native species and their habitats. The program works toward the recovery of species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
A bird-watcher’s paradise, CVCWA attracts species like the Gila woodpecker, Sonoran yellow warbler, summer tanager, vermilion flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo. There also are opportunities to observe bats — California leaf-nosed, pale Townsend’s big-eared, Western red and Western yellow — as well as coyotes and the Colorado River cotton rat.
There is no overnight public camping, no open fires, and no firewood cutting or gathering.
Directions: From Yuma, Ariz., take Interstate 8 west to the Ogilby Road exit. Take Ogilby Road to Highway 78. Take the right side of the fork to River Road. Follow River Road across the bridge. The CVCWA is a collection of fields mostly along the river (look for native cottonwood/willow and honey mesquite planted in them).
The Arizona Game and Fish Department looks to Tom Jones as the expert when it comes to the conservation of the state’s amphibians and reptiles.
The fact that Game and Fish is charged with overseeing these critters in the first place often comes as a surprise to many people, but they’re part of the 800-plus species managed by the department. In fact, most of the species Jones and his staff deal with are protected under the Endangered Species Act, or at least face ongoing conservation challenges.
“We have over 50 species of amphibians and reptiles in our state,” said Jones, amphibians and reptiles program manager. “Some of them are in dire need of conservation, while others are doing quite well.
“But it’s our responsibility to make sure we keep those common species common, and that we get the more rare species back to where they were before so they don’t need any protections from us or from the federal government.”
While his team performs a lot of the field work these days, Jones enjoys getting out and being “hands on” whenever he can.
“I find everything to be fascinating,” he said. “We get to see neat amphibians and reptiles all the time, and they all fascinate me. I really enjoy getting out into the field and seeing them.”
Did you know that Arizona is home to 28 species of bats? Or that the Mexican free-tailed bat is the state’s most common species? Would you know what to do if you found an injured or baby bat?
For answers to these questions, and more, check out this video presentation from azcentral.com.
Spring has sprung, and reptiles like rattlesnakes and Gila monsters are coming out to enjoy the warm weather. While these iconic desert critters will go to great lengths to avoid humans, here’s what you need to know if your paths should ever cross.