|Tracking the Aspen Pack|
by Mark MacAllister
: Getting Ready for the Wild
On July 23, 2004, five Mexican wolves ready to be released in the wild—AF667, AM512, and pups m871, f872, and f873—were captured at the Ladder Ranch Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico. Following their capture, they received physical exams and vaccinations and then were radiocollared. Several videoclips interspersed throughout this article show the process at various stages, beginning with the puppies being removed from their den, moving through the veterinary procedures, continuing with radiocollar fitting, and ending with one of the animals being placed in a kennel for its upcoming trip. [A dataset which highlights the results of several exams like this one but performed on other wolves is included in the Media Gallery to the right.]
Release in the Blue Range
The wolves were driven to Arizona during the evening of July 23. The next day, the five were taken into the Blue Range Primitive Area on mules and put into a mesh acclimation pen southeast of Hannagan Meadow. The wolves, known collectively as the Aspen Pack, were held for four days and then released to the wild. The pack initially remained in the vicinity of the pen, and wolf researchers supplied supplementary food (road-killed elk and deer) while the wolves adjusted to their new surroundings. The purpose of this release was to further diversify the Mexican wolf population’s genetics, and to help offset recent losses of wolves in the area.
Bringing Pups out of Den
|Documents and Data|
Mexican Wolf Morphology Dataset
: August-October 2004
Researchers tracked the Aspen Pack via radio, and saw no problems through August 2004. On September 12, though, they learned that someone saw a collared wolf and an uncollared wolf harassing a calf in a corral. After investigating, the researchers determined that AF667 and AM512 were in the area. They began intensive monitoring, and tried to frighten the wolves off (this is called hazing); they also installed two Radio Activated Guard (RAG) boxes, which emit noise and flashing lights when a wolf wearing a radiocollar is nearby. The adults soon moved out of the area and back to near the release site where the pups were located.
Not long thereafter, though, AM512 and pup f872 were again located within a half-mile of a house with livestock and poultry onsite. The wolves were successfully frightened away from the area, but researchers decided that the Aspen Pack needed to be continually monitored.
In October, researchers determined that the Aspen Pack was back near its release site, but that it was also making suspicious movements on several occasions. A third RAG box was placed in the area, and intensive monitoring continued. Researchers also placed a trailer in the area so they could watch the wolves more closely when they were near residences. Also, during the last week in October, pup f873 was located separately from the other members of the pack.
On October 28, a resident reported that the Aspen Pack apparently encountered two of his dogs, resulting in very minor injuries to one and possibly both dogs. Researchers decided that the Aspen Pack was moving along the Blue River when it encountered the dogs, one of which was free-ranging. After the encounter, the Aspen Pack moved out of the area, at least for the time being.
Flea Dipping Adult Wolf
Controlling Wolf's Temperature
: November-December 2004
By November, the pack had returned to the Blue River corridor. On November 4, the Aspen Pack came close to two dogs in a chain link fence near a house along the Blue River corridor. The resident fired a gun near the wolves and they ran off without injuring the dogs. And, on November 30, a Blue River resident reported that an uncollared wolf was attacking his dog on the resident’s back porch. Two dogs chased off the animal, and none of the dogs were injured.
The resident used a telemetry receiver, provided by project personnel, to see if any of the animals were members of the Aspen Pack. At that time, he did not pick up any Aspen Pack signals, which makes it unclear what wolves were involved in the incident. The situation became even more confusing when we consider that (1) researchers located the three collared Aspen wolves over a mile north of this area both before and after the incident, (2) the telemetry receiver was found to have the frequency of AF667 incorrectly programmed, (3) it was possible that pup m871 (the uncollared pup) may have been involved.
Also during November, pup f873 continued to wander away from the rest of the pack, and pup m871 had not been found since he slipped out of his collar in September.
The situation got even more complicated in December. The Aspen Pack crossed into the Blue River corridor at least three more times, though they generally stayed away from people. Nevertheless, Mexican wolf researchers decided that the pack members needed to be captured and sent to a more remote (and safe) location. Attempts to trap the Aspen Pack started on December 9; pup f872 was captured about two weeks later and sent to Ladder Ranch. At that point, researchers had decided to translocate her near a male lone wolf as soon as possible. No other pups were captured, and poor weather led the researchers to remove the traps on December 30. While all of this was going on, pup f873 continued to remain separate from the alpha pair.
Fitting Radio Collar
: January-November 2005
After all of the activity of December, the Aspen alpha pair changed its habits and relocated away from the Blue River corridor. Though they were seen in the area twice—on January 5 and on January 22—they didn't both anybody either time. Since there was no bad behavior, researchers decided not to try to trap them at this time. (Later, researchers determined that the alpha pair may have actually encountered some fenced-in dogs on January 5, though no injuries or other problems occurred.)
Things didn't go so well for the pups, though. On January 25, pup m871 was captured in a cattle grazing area; his sister was captured the next day in the same place. Since both had been involved in cattle depredations, they were returned to Sevilleta for possible translocation.
As February rolled around, the alpha pair continued to generally remain out of the Blue River corridor. Researchers found that the Aspen Pack was staying at least two miles away from the main corridor. Since there were no problems reported, researchers did not attempt to trap the Aspen Pack. By March, the remaining members of the Aspen Pack were located in their traditional home ranges.
Things changed significantly in April. First, on April 4, researchers learned that, in the Blue area, a dog had been injured and a calf was observed limping. When they arrived at the scence, the researchers located the Aspen Pack's AM512 and AF667 in the area. They worked to run off the pair, and no additional incidents were documented. Wildlife Services investigated the incident the following day and confirmed that the dog and a calf wounds were caused by wolves. The dog had a puncture wound to its hindquarters that required first aid; however, the calf wounds on a rear leg did not require medical attention. Nevertheless, trapping efforts were initiated on April 6 to remove the Aspen Pack from the area.
On April 9, researchers trapped AM512. The wolf was placed in a chain-link kennel and left on-site along a frequently used travel corridor. The goal was to use AM512 to attract its mate. However, on April 13, after AF667 failed to return to the area, AM512 was transported to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility.
The researchers also located the pair's den site, so trapping for AF667 was started on April 30. Once the female is caught, researchers will remove the pups from the den and take them and the female to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico, where they will be reunited with the male (see F667 and Pups Safely Captured for an update on F667).
Finally, two Aspen yearlings (last year's pups)—F872 and F873—were hard released into the west-central section of the recovery area on April 29. The two sisters stayed together in that area for several days, though those movements could change at any time.
Mexican wolf researchers finally trapped Aspen Pack AF667 on May 4 and removed three pups from the den. The female and pups were transported the following day to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico, where they were placed with Aspen AM512 and yearling m871.
On June 13, AF667 and AM512 of the Aspen Pack, along with yearling m871, and three pups of the year were captured at the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility, given medical examinations, vaccinated, and the adults were radio collared. The following day, the wolves were packed into the Gila Wilderness on mules where they were placed into an electrified plastic mesh pen. By June 15, all six wolves had self-released from their pen.
As late as July 31, the mexican wolf research team determined that the newly translocated Aspen Pack remained in the area of their release site in the Gila Wilderness.
The Aspen Pack spent most of September 2005 approximately 15 miles east of its release site in the Gila Wilderness. During the last week in September the Aspen Pack made a foray an additional seven miles to the eastern edge of the Gila Wilderness. However, by month’s end the pack had returned west to where they had been in early September.
The Aspen Pack was on the move during the month of November 2005. On November 4 and 10, the IFT located AM512, AF667and sub-adult M871 along the eastern edge of the Gila Wilderness. On the November 20 telemetry flight, they located the pack 20 miles further to the southwest, along the southern wilderness boundary. By month's end, the Aspen Pack returned 15 miles northeast to the center of their traditional home range within the Gila Wilderness.
Returning Wolf to Kennel
: January 2006 - December 2006
Throughout January, 2006, researchers located the Aspen Pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. Sub-adult M871 has been exhibiting dispersal behavior, but remained within in the Aspen pack alpha pair’s core use area.
During February 2006, researchers located the Aspen Pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. They also located sub-adults M871 and F861 (formerly of the Saddle Pack) together in an area about three miles away from the Aspen Pack alpha pair.
For March, April, May and June 2006, the Aspen Pack remained in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness.
Throughout July 2006, researchers located the Aspen pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. While project personnel have yet to observe pups, AF667 continues to exhibit denning behavior.
Throughout August, researchers located the Aspen Pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. While locations throughout the denning season indicated reproduction, project personnel have yet to observe pups.
In September 2006, researchers located the pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. On September 8, they observed four pups and AF667. On September 10, they captured and collared two male pups, m1038 and m1039. On September 14, they captured and collared female pup f1040.
The Aspen Pack continued to occupy the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness throughout October 2006.
Throughout November, researchers located the Aspen Pack in the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness Area. On the November 13 telemetry flight, researchers observed six pack members.
Throughout December, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas to the northeast and southeast of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
: January 2007 - December 2007
In January 2007, researchers filed their final report on the Aspen Pack for 2006. Their summary tells us that the Aspen Pack is considered a breeding pair and consists of six wolves observed during the January 2007 population survey. Five of these animals have functioning radio collars. On January 23, researchers captured f1046 and fitted it with a radio collar. Throughout January, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas to the northeast and southeast of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
Throughout February 2007, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas to the northeast and southeast of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. On the February 14 telemetry flight, researchers located M863 with the Aspen Pack, excluding f1040, north of the traditional Aspen pack territory. On the February 21 telemetry flight, researchers located m1039 approximately five miles south of the pack. During the same telemetry flight, researchers located f1040 over 20 miles south-southwest of the pack. They again located M863 with AF667 and m1038 on this flight and on the February 26 telemetry flight.
Throughout March, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. Male 1039 and F1046 began making dispersal movements, and researchers located them separate from the pack northwest of the wilderness area. On the March 18 telemetry flight, researchers observed five wolves in the pack. Researchers have not been able confirm AM512’s existence, and it is assumed dead or no longer associated with the pack.
Throughout April, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, as well as the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. Researchers located m1038, m1039 and f1040 separate from the pack, but within traditional Aspen Pack territory.
Throughout May, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, as well as the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness.
Throughout June, the Aspen Pack continued to use areas north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, as well as the eastern portion of the Gila Wilderness. Based on location information, researchers have documented denning behavior in this pack.
Throughout July, researchers located the Aspen Pack north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. Based on location information, researchers have documented denning behavior in this pack.
Throughout August, researchers located the pack north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness. During the first part of August, a ranch hand in the area observed four pups with the Aspen Pack.
Throughout September, researchers located the pack north of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness with f1046 located separate from the pack on the September 24 telemetry flight.
On the October 15, 23, and 29 telemetry flights, researchers located the pack north of their traditional home range area in the vicinity of the Durango Pack. On October 15, 22 and 31, researchers determined that AF667, AM863 and F1046 were involved in confirmed depredations of three calves resulting in the third, fourth and fifth depredation incidents for AF667, AM863 and F1046. As a result, the USFWS issued a Removal Order on October 26 for AM863 and F1046.
Throughout November, researchers located the pack north of its traditional home range area in the vicinity of the Durango Pack territory in the east-central portion of the Gila National Forest (GNF). On November 1, researchers captured AM863 and pups f1105 and f1106 outside the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) boundary. Researchers removed AM863, per a United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Removal Order, to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility. Researchers fitted f1105 and f1106 with radio collars and released them near their 2007 den. On the November 5 telemetry flight, researchers located f1106 separate from the pack. On November 26, researchers recaptured f1106 outside of the BRWRA boundary again and placed it with AM863 in captivity. Researchers did not locate the Aspen Pack on the November 26 telemetry flight due to technical difficulties with the plane.
On November 2, 24, 25 and 27, researchers confirmed the Aspen Pack was involved in additional depredation incidents. Because of these depredations, on November 28, the USFWS modified the October 26 Removal Order to include AF667 and associated pups, in addition to F1046.
On December 4, researchers removed, per a USFWS Removal Order, AF667, F1046, f1105 and an uncollared female pup, assigned studbook number f1108, to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico.
For all practical purposes, the Aspen Pack no longer exists as a wild Mexican wolf pack. Perhaps one day f1108 will be returned to the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Field Trip Earth will monitor the Aspen Pack while it is in captivity.
About the author:
Mark MacAllister is the Project Coordinator for Field