Monday, October 31, 2016

Canis Lupus Meets Canis Spookus


Ambassador wolves Zephyr and Nikai don't care for intruders, especially super spooky ones!

We're constantly trying to make sure that our ambassador wolves have interesting experiences. Their enclosures are spacious and have natural varied terrain, but we also try to provide them with enrichment - items or activities to stimulate them. It's Halloween so the wolves were introduced to Canis spookus the howling wolf skeleton!

Happy Howl-o-ween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Are "Frozen Zoos" the Future of Endangered Species Recovery?

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WCC collecting Mexican wolf semen with Dr Asa

Critically endangered Mexican gray wolves roam the wilds of New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. They also live in captivity. But their future may lie in a “frozen zoo.”

That’s the term of endearment scientists use for the bank of frozen wolf sperm and ovaries stored in cryogenic vaults where some of the most precious genes of the species are being held for future reproductive use.

Although the "frozen zoo" is great tool to preserve rare Mexican wolf genes for future use, other recovery strategies need to occur immediately to rescue the wild population from the brink of extinction - we need to prioritize captive-to-wild release events. Unfortunately state politics have too often blocked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) release efforts, so wolves essential to the genetic health of the wild population remain in captivity. The Service has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered species and releases are a central part of that effort.

Only ten wolves, including six pups fostered into existing wolf dens earlier this year, have been released from captivity since 2009.

Michael Robinson of Center for Biological Diversity agrees that too few genetically valuable wolves are being released from captivity into the wild. “If these wolves had been released a decade ago, instead of stuck in pens due to politics, their great-grandpups would roam the Southwest today, embodying the genetic diversity that instead is being stored in freezers.”

Are "frozen zoos" the future of endangered species recovery? How do you feel about this?

Background

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 97 individuals - a decrease from 110 counted at the end of 2014.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

His Howl Can Change the World Because it Can Change People


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When He Sings, He Gives Soul to the Universe


Ambassador wolf Atka has won the hearts and opened the minds of hundreds of thousands of people in his 14 years. He’s a powerful presence in the fight to preserve wolves’ rightful place in the environment, and for the Wolf Conservation Center staff and volunteers, the best boss we’ll ever have. We love you, Atka!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Evidence of Success in Mexican Wolf Cross-Fostering Program

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Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction, genetic health is the primary consideration governing not only reproductive pairings, but also captive-to-wild release efforts. Although both components are equally critical to Mexican wolf recovery, release events are far less frequent than successful breeding.

Unfortunately state politics have too often blocked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) release efforts, so wolves essential to the genetic health of the wild population remain in captivity. The Service has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered species and releases are a central part of that effort.

During the spring positive steps were taken toward recovery, USFWS forged ahead despite political state opposition by ushering captive wolves into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Pup-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves. And yesterday USFWS released news that at least two of the cross-fostered pups are confirmed alive - evidence of success in cross-fostering program!

"This is great news," explained WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell. Pup-fostering is an incredibly effective tool for augmenting the genetic health of the wild population. We cannot, however, rely on cross-foster events alone, recovery demands releasing more family groups into the wild too.”

Federal biologists and independent scientists have repeatedly made clear that without such releases, wolf inbreeding will worsen — crippling chances of recovery.

Background
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 97 individuals - a decrease from 110 counted at the end of 2014.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Beauty. Not beast. Vital. Not vicious.


"Autumn is a second spring when every wolf is a flower."
~ Almost Albert Camus

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Is the Red Wolf Telling Us?


A wolf's eyes have the power to speak a great language. What do you suppose this critically endangered red wolf is saying?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Four Decades After Listing, U.S. Court Mandates Recovery Plan for Endangered Mexican Wolves



Four decades after Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will finally have to complete a plan to recover the Mexican gray wolf.

U.S. Judge Jennifer Zipps in the District of Arizona on Monday dismissed the concerns of ranchers and others and signed off on a settlement between environmental groups and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the settlement agreement, USFWS is required to:
  • Complete a Mexican wolf recovery plan by Nov. 30, 2017
  • Conduct an independent peer review of the draft plan, and
  • Provide status reports on the recovery planning process to the court and the parties every six months until the recovery plan issues.

Furthermore, the above terms are now judicially enforceable as a result of the court’s ruling.

“The settlement announced today provides hope that the lobo can be a living, breathing part of the southwestern landscape instead of just a long-lost frontier legend,” said Tim Preso, Earthjustice attorney. “But to realize that hope, federal officials must take up the challenge of developing a legitimate, science-based recovery plan for the Mexican wolf rather than yielding to political pressure.”

Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in November 2014 to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s multi-decade delay in completing a recovery plan for the Mexican wolf. Earthjustice represents Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, retired Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator David R. Parsons, the Endangered Wolf Center and the Wolf Conservation Center in the case. Today, after a lengthy delay, the federal district court in Tucson, Arizona issued an order approving the settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so a path to recovery for the critically endangered Mexican gray wolves can at last be realized.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. “And for these iconic and imperiled wolves, failure means extinction. This settlement represents a necessary and long overdue step toward recovering America’s most endangered gray wolf and preventing an irrevocable loss from happening on our watch.”


BACKGROUND
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)—the “lobo” of southwestern lore—is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population in the Blue Range area of Arizona and New Mexico comprising only 97 individuals, all descendants of just seven wild founders of a captive breeding program. These wolves are threatened by illegal killings, legal removals due to conflicts with livestock, and a lack of genetic diversity. Within the past year alone, escalating mortalities and illegal killing, along with reduced pup survival, reduced the wild population from 110 to 97 individuals.


The Service has never written or implemented a legally sufficient Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. Its most recent recovery team has done extensive, rigorous work to determine what needs to be done to save the Mexican gray wolf. Recovery team scientists agreed that, in order to survive, lobos require the establishment of at least three linked populations. Habitat capable of supporting the two additional populations exists in the Grand Canyon ecoregion and in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The recovery team drafted a plan in 2012 that called for establishing three interconnected Mexican gray wolf populations totaling at least 750 animals in these areas, but the plan has never been finalized.

USFWS's Controversial Red Wolf Decision Based On "Alarming Misinterpretations" of Science

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The team of scientists who drafted the Population Viability Analysis (PVA) for the red wolf state in a letter that U. S. Fish Wildlife Service's (USFWS) decision to pull almost all of the last remaining wild red wolves and place them in captivity was based on "many alarming misinterpretations" of their scientific analysis.
"As the scientific team conducting the population viability analysis (PVA) of the future status of red wolves, we were pleased at USFWS’ desire to use the best available science to inform decision-making. Unfortunately, the September 12th decision on the future of the Red Wolf Recovery Program included many alarming misinterpretations of the PVA as justification for the final decision."
The June 2016 PVA report summarizes modeling for both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) population and the wild population in North Carolina. Their results highlight the successes of the SSP and wild populations, the challenges they face, and the management actions that can help them.
"The most conspicuous misinterpretation of these results in the USFWS decision is focused on the SSP - that “the species is not secured in captivity” and that “with no changes to current management, the species will likely be lost within the next decade."
Their letter clarifies  appropriate interpretations of the PVA's recommendations re: both the captive SSP and wild populations and warns that USFWS's singular focus on captive SSP population "will no doubt result in the extinction of red wolves in the wild.
The fact that USFWS, the very agency charged by federal law with protecting endangered species, is basing species recovery decisions on "alarming misinterpretations" of science is just another blow the agency has delivered to the World's most endangered wolf species.
Due to the Service's neglect and inaction over the past few years, only 45 red wolves remain in the wild.

Beauty. Not Beast. Vital. Not Vicious.



Beyond being beautiful, wolves are critical keystone species. By regulating prey populations, wolves enable many other species of plants and animals to flourish. Without predators, such as wolves, an ecosystem fails to support a natural level of biodiversity, and may cease to exist altogether.

The recovery of the gray wolf after its eradication from Yellowstone National Park, nearly a century ago, serves as a demonstration of how critical keystone species are to the long-term sustainability of the ecosystems they inhabit. In the 70-year absence of wolves in the Park, elk had become accustomed to grazing tender, native willows along stream banks without much predation risk. The consequences of an elk population without a top predator included a decline of the deciduous trees elk eat, a decline of beavers due to the decline of willow and aspen, and a decline in songbirds. These consequences indicate that changes in the wolf population have trickle-down effects on other populations, a phenomenon known as a “trophic cascade.”

With the support of the American public two decades ago, the federal government gave the green light to return wolves to portions of their native range in the West in 1995 and 1996 - including Yellowstone. The wildlife conservation event opened a new chapter in Yellowstone's history, with a homecoming that changed the Park.

After wolf reintroduction, scientists documented the return of willows and other vegetation. And where the willow returned, the researchers noted more diverse wildlife. Beaver dams and dried up wetlands returned, and wetland birds, waterfowl and other wildlife thrived again where they had been suppressed for decades. Over-grazed grasses flourished anew on upland prairies.

As Mother Nature's wildlife managers, wolves initiate trickle down effects that improve ecosystem function and resilience.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wolves Just Can't Resist a Good Howl



Although wolves use varied vocalizations to express themselves, if you ask anyone about wolf sounds, it's likely the howl that comes to mind. Howling helps keep family members (or pack-mates) together. Because a pack's territory can range over vast areas, it’s not unusual for members of the pack to become separated from one another. Wolves can call to one another over great distances by howling. A howl’s low pitch and long duration is well suited for transmission on the wild landscape – a wolf’s howl can be heard up to 10 miles away in open terrain! Wolves can howl to locate other wolves, advertise the size of their pack, to warn other family members of danger using a bark howl, and more. Just like us, each wolf has a unique voice so distinctive features of each individual's howl allow wolves to identify each other. And when every member of the pack joins the chorus, the singular howls and their harmonies give the listener the impression that pack is larger than it actually is.

What do you think Zephyr is saying?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

You Gotta Love This Wolf


Who else LOVES Atka!!??
The confident and charismatic ambassador has won the hearts and opened the minds of hundreds of thousands of people in his 14 years. He’s a powerful presence in the fight to preserve wolves’ rightful place in the environment, and for the Wolf Conservation Center staff and volunteers, the best boss we’ll ever have. Atka, we love you so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Red Wolf - An American Icon



This is what an American Icon looks like.

The red wolf is one of the few large carnivore species endemic to the United States - this keystone predator has never been found anywhere else in the world. Their importance to a balanced and resilient ecosystem is undeniable. And their recovery should be a matter of pride and priority for our nation. Hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the initial extinction of red wolves in the wild. Today the world's most endangered wolf is facing extinction for a second time, but at the hands of our government.
Learn more.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

USFWS - Committed to Red Wolves? Or Negligent?




In an op-ed published yesterday, Cynthia Dohner, USFWS Southeast Regional Director, attempts to defend the Service's controversial plans for the red wolf and stating that USFWS's goal is to save the red wolf and ensure its recovery. Her position seems to be that the red wolf recovery program up until now has been a failure.

The fact is that red wolf recovery program is regarded as a significant milestone not only for the rare species but for endangered wildlife conservation. The red wolf reintroduction was among the first instances of a species, considered extinct in the wild, being re-established from a captive population. In many ways the red wolf program was the pilot program, serving as a model for subsequent canid reintroductions, particularly those of the Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) to the American Southwest and the gray wolf (Canis lupus) to the Yellowstone region.

For a while, thanks to sustained federal leadership, the red wolf recovery effort was making steady progress. The wild population peaked at an estimated 130 wolves in 2006 and remained above 100 for several years.

Unfortunately, in 2014 when USFWS halted all key management activity, the wild red wolf population plummeted to its lowest level in decades. Current estimates put the wild population at just 45.

So we ask Cindy Dohner, who rejects claims that the Service has turned its back on recovering the rare and at-risk species, to explain how its following actions represent the agency’s commitment to the world’s most endangered wolf.

The Service:
  • Eliminated its full time red wolf recovery coordinator position and to re-direct red wolf staff to other programs.
  • Reduced or perhaps eliminated efforts to collar and track wild red wolves.
  • Abandoned its scientifically-proven coyote placeholder program, through which coyotes are captured, sterilized and returned to the wild, to avoid hybridization.
  • Halted all captive-to-wild release events and pup fostering
  • Issued permits to private landowners to take and kill wolves.
  • Refused to control coyote hunting in the recovery area, and the subsequent loss of red wolves to gunshot.
  • Halted all red wolf education and outreach efforts.
  • On September 12th announced its plan to remove almost all of the remaining red wolves from the wild landscape and place them in captivity. 

Does this look like commitment to you?

USFWS, the very agency charged by federal law with protecting endangered species, is making red wolves pay the ultimate price for the its negligence and inaction.




Tuesday, October 4, 2016

USFWS Celebrates World Animal Day with Expansion of Hunting in Wildlife Refuges?

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced the agency will expand hunting and fishing opportunities on 13 refuges throughout the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System.

In the press release, Ashe points out that hunting and fishing have contributed a great deal to economic activity across the U.S.. What Ashe failed to mention is that according to USFWS’s report, our National Wildlife Refuge System alone creates $2 BILLION for the economy. And surprise, surprise... non-consumptive use of the refuge system (non-hunting activities) is the more powerful economic engine.

"Recreational activities such as birding, hiking and picnicking account for nearly 75% of total expenditures at wildlife refuges across the country, the report says, while fishing and hunting account for about 28 percent of expenditures."

Presently, there are approximately 305 million people in our nation and only 6% of them (37 million people) buy hunting licenses; the vast majority of people do not hunt. Nearly 72 million (9% of the nation’s population) engage in wildlife-watching activities nationwide.

The wildlife in this country is owned by its citizens. This legal concept implies that we all share equal, undivided interests in our wild animals. The government holds wildlife in trust for our benefit and is empowered to manage it for the public good.

So is an expansion of hunting opportunities on public lands set aside for the protection of wildlife, fish, and plants meant to benefit the public good? Moreover, aren’t refuges are intended to be safe havens for wildlife?

Wildlife Recreation Expenditures - Here Are The Numbers

The final U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation has detailed information on the number of U.S. residents 16 years of age and older who fished, hunted or wildlife watched (fed, observed, or photographed wildlife) in 2011. It also provides information on their expenditures for trips, equipment, and other items. Wildlife-related outdoor recreation increased dramatically from 2006 to 2011. The national details are shown in the final report. A 2011 National Survey Overview Summary is also available.

More.

Protect Threatened Algonquin Wolves

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Photo: Steve Dunsford of Impressions of Algonquin

Last month, as the trophy hunting and trapping seasons opened, the Ontario government announced its decision to strip the Algonquin wolf (eastern wolf), recently classified as threatened with extinction, of the legal protection provided by the provincial Endangered Species Act (ESA). Although the law forbids killing threatened species, the government is making an exception to allow hunting and trapping of Algonquin wolves throughout the majority of their range. In making this exemption, Ontario is ignoring science and public concern - the majority of the 17,301 comments submitted in response to the Ontario's proposals opposed this change in regulation.

A mere 154 adult wolves are left in Ontario.

"The primary threats facing these animals are hunting and trapping. Only in dreamland can a species avoid extinction while being relentlessly exposed to the very threats that landed it on the at-risk list to begin with," stated Hannah Barron, director of Wildlife Conservation Campaigns for Ontario's Earthroots. "Instead of being mired in old-school thinking driven by folklore, we need to start listening to the science that tells us to act fast if we want to protect the web of life that is unraveling before our eyes."

“By allowing hunters and trappers to kill Algonquin wolves across the majority of their extent of occurrence, Ontario’s message to the American people and their own constituents is that species-at-risk recovery is not a priority,” stated Maggie Howell, director of the Wolf Conservation Center. “This decision is in direct contravention to its ministry’s mandate.”

Today is the last day to submit comments re: Algonquin wolves to the Canadian government. Please follow the link below to urge Canada to protect Algonquin wolves at the federal level.
Take action.

Thank you!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Happy New Year!


Extending good wishes to all celebrating Rosh Hashanah!