ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A female Mexican gray wolf that roamed beyond the endangered species’ recovery area into the more northern reaches of New Mexico has been captured, authorities said Monday.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish used a helicopter to locate and capture the wolf Sunday.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Albuquerque said the wolf will be held temporarily in captivity and paired with a male Mexican wolf “for transfer as a pair to Mexico later this year.”
They said the female wolf first moved north of the arbitrary Interstate 40 boundary in New Mexico on Jan. 2 and then showed no signs of returning to the experimental population recovery area.
Authorities said last week that a map showed the wolf near Taos and south of the Colorado border.
“As it is breeding season and there are no other known wolves in the area, there was a high likelihood of a negative interaction or breeding with domestic dogs,” Fish and Wildlife Service officials said in a statement.
The wolf, from the Rocky Prairie Pack of Arizona, was named “Asha” by school children.
Her roaming reignited a debate over whether the predators should be confined to a certain stretch of the southwestern U.S. as wildlife managers work to boost the population.
Environmentalists have been fighting in federal court to overturn a requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service capture wolves that roam north of I-40.
Last week, conservation advocates asked authorities to allow the wolf to continue on her journey.
“This wolf’s name, Asha, means ‘hope’ in Sanskrit,” said Mary Katherine Ray, wildlife chair for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. “What could be more fitting for a wolf exploring and surviving the big wide world on her own as wolves historically once did throughout the southwest?”
Collared wolves have trekked north of I-40 only a handful of times since 2015 when the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area was established, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.
The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. According to the most recent survey released in early 2022, there were at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. It marked the sixth straight year the population had increased.