A female Mexican wolf with a demonstrated penchant for roaming has once again turned up far north of her designated habitat, spurring calls from conservationists to allow wolves to naturally repopulate lost territory.
The endangered wolf — named “Asha” — was recently tracked to the southern boundary of Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico, hundreds of miles from the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area where she was reintroduced. This marks the second instance in recent months where Asha has undertaking long distance travels far outside her federally designated range.
Last year, the adventurous wolf made headlines when she was captured and returned to the experimental population area after journeying north towards Colorado. Wildlife officials have now fitted Asha with a radio collar to monitor her movements.
Conservationists say Asha’s wanderlust offers proof that Mexican wolves will roam vast distances if given the chance, just as their larger North American gray wolf cousins have. Her travels bolster evidence that Mexican wolves could once again inhabit mountainous woodlands from Canada through the American southwest and down to Mexico.
“This female’s repeated attempts to move north demonstrate the Mexican gray wolf’s natural inclination to roam,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “She is in search of a mate and could soon find one in Colorado. This is a clear sign that wolves will again roam from the northern Rockies in Canada to the Sierra of Mexico if we let them.”
Smaller relatives of the gray wolf, Mexican wolves have been endangered for decades. Their historic range likely included national parks and monuments throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, including Saguaro, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains and Gila Cliff Dwellings. The apex predators prefer remote, mountainous habitats.
Yet current regulations impose strict geographic limitations on Mexican wolf populations, requiring removal of wolves that roam north of Interstate 40. Conservation organizations contend such rules ignore scientific evidence about wolves’ ability to recolonize lost territory.
“Wolves are smart but they don’t read federal regulations and shouldn’t be bound by arbitrary political boundaries,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups challenging the regulations in court. “Wolves also don’t read peer-reviewed studies, so it’s striking that Asha’s movements prove scientists’ work correct. The southern Rockies is within loping reach of endangered Mexican wolves and should be part of their recovery area.”
Wildlife officials have declined to speculate on whether Asha will be captured and returned to the experimental population area again or allowed to continue her travels. But her explorations northward have added new urgency to the legal battle over Mexican wolf recovery zones. Conservationists hope Asha’s odyssey leads to expanded habitat protections grounded in scientific evidence, allowing wolves to once again roam freely across a vast historic landscape.
Cover photo courtesy of: Larry Lamsa