The Lobo has been the University of New Mexico’s mascot for almost 100 years, but the Lobo, also known as the Mexican gray wolf, is making a slow comeback from the endangered species list.
The wolf’s habitat used to stretch as far south as central Mexico, as north as central New Mexico, as west as Arizona and as east as Texas, but now its habitat is confined to reintroduction zones along the Arizona-New Mexico border, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
As people ventured southwest with cattle, “high cattle stocking rates and declining populations of native prey” led Mexican wolves to prey on livestock, the website goes on to say.
Subsequently, ranchers participated in “federal, state and private” campaigns to eradicate the lobo, and by the mid-1900s it was believed that the Mexican gray wolf was eradicated, according to a conference paper called Economic Analysis of Indemnity Payments for Wolf Depredation on Cattle in a Wolf Reintroduction Area.
In 1973, the United States started the Endangered Species Act and the Mexican gray wolf was listed as an endangered species, meaning the species is “in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their range,” according to the Endangered Species Coalition’s website.
From 1977 to 1980, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mexican counterpart launched a campaign to collect all remaining wild wolves and breed them in captivity, according to earthjustice.org.
Kaylen Jones just finished her master’s in museum studies with a focus on natural history collections and completed her master’s thesis on the relationships between the Mexican gray wolf and politics, culture and conservation. Her findings will be presented in the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in late July 2018.
“UNM, unfortunately, doesn’t do a lot for conservation, and so this was me making an exhibit to try and bring the community…together to try to realize that these animals are endangered,” she said. “We’re using them as a mascot, yet we’re not really doing anything as students, as faculty, as UNM for these animals.”
This species of wolf is necessary for wildlife, Jones said.
She said the wolves will feed on older and sicker individuals of a herd, which results in a healthier herd overall, because then the wolves would not have to spend time to take care of the sick and injured.
By keeping prey populations in check, Mexican gray wolves can also prevent overgrazing and consequently prevent potential flash floods and mudslides that are a result of loosened top soil caused by overgrazing, Jones said.
“It not only affects grazing lands for cattle, but it also affects buildings or stable places for people that live in those areas,” she said.
Jones said she does not think the Mexican gray wolf is at a sustainable population size.
The wolf recuperation program’s low numbers are caused by “political issues. This is because of state issues. This is because of administrations that are cutting budgets for species management. They’re not at a viable population to have these wolves removed off the endangered species list,” she said.
In early January, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake proposed legislation to remove the Mexican wolf off the endangered species list, according to congress.gov. This is not the first time he introduced legislation to delist the lobo from the Endangered Species Act, he tried in Feb. 2017 as well.
Judy Calman is a staff attorney with New Mexico Wild, an environmental advocacy group. When Flake introduced his bill to delist the lobo, Calman’s organization signed on to letters in opposition of his bill, she said.
Calman, the eight-year staff attorney said the reason Flake keeps reintroducing the bill is likely to appease a constituent group.
“Congress should not decide when to delist a single species, because that (decision) should be made with science and not because of politics,” she said.
If it were not for the Endangered Species Act, Calman said the Mexican gray wolf would “go extinct pretty quickly.”
The Daily Lobo reached out to Flake’s office for an interview about the subject but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.