The field team suspended capture operations pending a review of the events that led to the wolves' deaths. According to a state release, the wolves were shot with darts and released back into the wild. One wolf died four days after being released, and the other died within minutes of being darted. The press release said 13 wolves have been successfully processed in the operation so far this year. The deaths are the first fatalities in the count and capture operations, which have processed 110 wolves since 2005.
The annual population count and capture operation is conducted every winter to determine the minimum number of Mexican wolves in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area, which includes part of Arizona and New Mexico. The wolves are counted by air via an airplane and helicopter. The captures are made with a tranquilizer dart from the helicopter. The capture operations are conducted to attach radio collars, which enable the field team to gather biological information, such as dispersal, territories, habitat use and breeding. The radio collars also allow the handlers to monitor the wolves for potential conflicts with human activities, such as livestock depredations. While immobilized, the team also obtains blood from each wolf for DNA analysis and to screen for disease, determines body condition, and gives vaccinations.
The news release said the techniques were permitted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and that volunteers allr eceived up-to-date training in drug immobilization and wolf handling. Additionally, handlers are trained in ehlicopter safety and aerial capture techniques. A veterinarian was also involved in the processing of the wolves, the release siad.
The team may refine its procedures based on results from the necropsies, the news release said.
A subspecies of the gray wolf, the Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976.
Reintroduction started in 1998, but the effort has been hampered over the years by politics, illegal killings and other factors. Disputes over the program’s management have spurred numerous legal actions by environmentalists who want more wolves released and by ranchers concerned about their livelihoods and safety in rural communities. There are now at least 109 wolves in the wild in the two states. That’s more than at any time since the reintroduction started.