Intertwined— an exposition on the endangered Mexican Grey Wolf and its divisive status and ongoing reintroduction to the Southwest — will be on exhibit at the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology until October 26. The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Historically the Mexican Grey Wolf had a habitat range spanning from Texas to Central Mexico, but as European settlers filtered into the Southwest wolves were hunted to near extinction levels. After the reduction, the total population of the wolf became less than 10 percent, a breeding and reintroduction program began and still endures today.
The reintroduction of the wolves has caused controversy since many local farmers and businessmen oppose the possible livestock damage from predation. The current reintroduction of wild wolves is only being done in Arizona, and is a lightning rod for political debate.
It is in this context that Kalen Soudachanh the co-curator of Intertwined and a recent UNM graduate sees deeper meaning in the wolf’s struggle.
“As I started getting into my career at UNM as a student I started to realize there were parallels between the wolf's history and Native American history,” Soudachanh said.
Soudachanh’s collaborator Devorah Romanek — the curator of exhibits and head of interpretation at the Maxwell Museum — adds that looking at the current use of the wolf as a “new age, watered down, pan-indian” symbol of spirituality was another focus of the project.
The wolf image can be traced back to its previous use as an anthropomorphization, personification of non-human entities, of the noble savage image of indigenous peoples Soudachanh said.
Much of the focus of the exhibit is on the wolf’s impact on Indigenous Peoples and influenced by Soudachanh’s Navajo heritage.
“One thing that is left out of all these conservation efforts is the importance of these species to surrounding communities,” Soudachanh said.
The collection also interrogates the use of the Mexican Grey Wolf as the mascot of the University of New Mexico. The lobo has been used as a symbol of pride for a long time at UNM, but Romanek finds it “disappointing that the University does really nothing in terms of larger concerns and conservation on the wolf.”
The exhibit points to the example of Arkansas State University that became involved in conservation efforts for its mascot the Red Wolf after a student led effort.
Soudachanh began working on the exhibit as a student, which marked the first time a student had done an exhibit at the Maxwell Museum, but the years of progress on Intertwined has, according to Romanek, paved the way for other students to begin making their own exhibits.
Intertwined shows the Mexican Grey Wolf as it is today: Embattled and in danger. But, just like the communities that have traditionally revered it, the Grey Wolf is still around. With effort from the public the Grey Wolf can return to a stable position in the Southwest.
At the front desk of the Museum is a list of contacts for anyone who is interested in helping with wolf conservation efforts locally or nationally, as well as ways to encourage the UNM community to support Grey Wolf conservation.
Colin Peña is a Beat Reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @penyacolin