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Wolf population still doing well despite two deaths

By John Kamin, assistant editor

Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the Mexican Gray Wolf population is still doing well despite the discovery of a dead wolf that was found in Apache Sitgreaves National Forest on Dec. 21.

In December, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Coordinator John Oakleaf told the Courier that about 50 to 60 of the endangered species are alive in the wild.

Arizona Game and Fish Nongame Biologist Dan Groebner verified this number on Thursday and said that pups who have survived until now have a high probability of surviving the winter.

Arizona Game and Fish Nongame Mammals Program Manager Bill Van Pelt said wolf am194 (am stands for alpha male) of the Cienega Pack was found dead south of Alpine in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest on Dec. 21. He also said wolf af637 (alpha female) of the Hon-Dah pack was found dead on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation on Dec. 24.

Oakleaf confirmed the report. Oakleaf is also known as the liaison between the project's field team and the government agencies involved in the project.

He said members of the project's field team found the animals and said the cause of death for each animal is being investigated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special agents.

"They open an investigation regardless what the cause of mortality is," he said. Necropsies will be performed at the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore.

Oakleaf said it becomes easy to focus on the deaths of the wolves.

"Even though we're losing some alphas, they'll be replaced," he said. "Some of them are dying, but there's lots of individual animals out there."

He said wolves who have lost their mates have been pairing up with wild wolves, as opposed to wolves that have been reintroduced by the FWS. Oakleaf mentioned an alpha female from the Saddle Pack that died and said the female's mate found a new mate.

"There's just a wild animal that ties in with them," he said. They just repair (their mating status) in the wild, which is far better than us manipulating the situation."

Groebner agreed with Oakleaf's comments.

"So far we've had some pretty good success with opposite sex wolves finding these vacant mates," Groebner said. He said that alpha wolves have been mating with wild wolves on their own for about three years now.

Groebner works out of the department's Pinetop office and acts as the project leader for the state's wolf project.

He said wolf counts become easier to do when the ground is covered in snow because the wolves stand out against the white background. Groebner said he is waiting for another good snowstorm before another wolf count is performed by helicopter.

Contact John Kamin at 428-2560 or johnk@eacourier.com

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