Four decades ago, Rick LoBello discovered his life’s passion as he watched several wildlife experts capture an endangered Mexican wolf in South Texas for a preservation project.
“When I saw one of the last wild Mexican wolves in 1978 I began my quest to help save the species and to help return it to the wilds of Texas,” said LoBello, educational curator at the El Paso Zoo.
At the height of its time, the Mexican Gray Wolf could be seen in abundant numbers. According to the Gray Wolf Conservation, between 250,000 and 500,000 wild wolves lived in harmony with Native Americans.
“Not many people know this, but the last Mexican wolf in Texas was actually killed near Big Bend National Park which was near where I lived.” This was due to wolves running out of wildlife to feed on and turning to livestock and cattle.
Prior to moving to El Paso 18 years ago, LoBello was Executive Director of the Carlsbad Caverns Guadalupe Mountains Association. In addition to his job at the zoo, he also leads the wolf conservation with the El Paso Sierra Group Rio Grande Chapter.
Sherry Barrett, the Mexican wolf coordinator at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Services in New Mexico said, “The Mexican Wolves were eliminated by humans. It was through a campaign to reduce predators and so they were eliminated from the United States by about the late 1970s and from Mexico in the 80s.”
This caused the population to dwindle down to about 300 wolves which equals to about a 99.94 percent decrease in population.
Conservation recovery efforts began almost immediately. At the end of the 1960s wolves were recolonized in Minnesota and Wisconsin. By 1990 wolves were recolonized in Montana and in a small part of Washington State.
At this point, a reintroduction began to take place in states such as Tenessee and North Carolina. Today, thanks to the quick work of scientists and animal activists wolves have been recolonized in New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon, and Wyoming. The U.S. fish and wildlife services hope to have the wolf recolonized throughout the U.S again in the near future.
As of now, there are currently no wolves in Texas. The Sierra Group- Rio Grande chapter in El Paso is working carefully with the state of Texas to construct a plan to reinitiate the animals back into the Chihuahua desert.
The El Paso Zoo currently houses three Mexican Gray Wolves and the Albuquerque Bio Park houses two. Visitors can visit and inquire about the conservation efforts at these locations.
According to data shared by Barrett, all the wolves that were in Arizona and New Mexico through December 2017 has a minimum of 114, and Mexico has another population that consists of about 30.
Wolves are great for the ecosystem. LoBello said that wolves would help control the population of animals that over produce as well as cut down on vermin coming into contact with the human population.
The recent border wall talks, however, have become a concern to scientists and conservationists. This is due to the issue of preventing wolves from being able to intermingle with each other. Bennett said this would not cause major issues for the wolves, but it is ideal that wolf packs would be able to travel between borders.
Ideally, the habitat that the wolves would be released into would allow them to repopulate without coming into contact with humans or homes.
LoBello said, “The success of any wolf reintroduction project no matter whether if it’s in Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Montana, wherever is to try to put the wolves in areas where they won’t come into conflict.”