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Howls of protest greet Mexican wolf reintroduction

New Mexico program faces higher hurdles than similar one in Yellowstone.

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A Mexican gray wolf paces in enclosure at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, N.M.

Moises Velasquez-Manoff

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On a cold, wind-whipped November morning, about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque, N.M., a line of people faces off against a pack of wolves. They clutch poles, nets, and lassos, props not necessarily meant for use, but to make them look bigger. A US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official tells them not to worry, there’s little danger. But if a wolf tries to break the line, don’t go sticking out a limb.

Most of these wolves, an endangered Southwestern subspecies, were born and bred in captivity. They’re the fruit of a 25-year-old plan by the FWS to reestablish the Mexican wolf in the wild.

The captive wolves live between two hills on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, their enclosures largely isolated from human sights, sounds, and smells as a rewilding exercise. They can’t be habituated to a human presence; without sufficient fear of people, they won’t last long in the wild. Indeed, only the most fearful will be released at all.

The animals’ alarm has been evident since the first truck came into sight up the dirt road. They lope tirelessly around the well-worn trails that line the perimeters of their enclosures. They occasionally leap up against the 12-foot-high chain link fences. Innate fear is partly responsible, explains Maggie Dwire, an assistant coordinator with the FWS’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. But wolves also anticipate – and presumably dread – the chase, muzzling, poking, and prodding that often accompany human visits. “That’s fine with me,” she says.

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