Mexican Gray Wolf ‘Asha’ recaptured in northern NM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A rather determined Mexican Gray Wolf’s second journey into northern New Mexico is over.
New Mexico Game & Fish officials captured “Asha” with a helicopter Saturday near Coyote, New Mexico – on the northern end of Valles Caldera. It marked the second time wildlife officials captured the critically-endangered wolf after venturing far past the boundaries of the Mexican Gray Wolf Experimental Population Zone.
“Wolves are driven by something wilder and inexplicable than human management,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project.
Asha’s second journey into northern New Mexico began in late October. Radio collar tracking data showed she crossed I-40 (the northern border of the recovery zone) near Albuquerque.
Asha spent five weeks exploring the wilderness around the Valles Caldera before wildlife officials decided to capture her.
Officials say Asha showed no signs of returning to the recovery zone ahead of breeding season.
“Our decision to capture [Asha] was made out of concern for her safety and well-being,” said Brady McGee, Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator. “Dispersal events like this are often in search of a mate. As there are no other known wolves in the area, she was unlikely to be successful, and risked being mistaken for a coyote and shot.”
Following her capture, Asha was relocated to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility near Socorro.
Officials say she will be paired with a male wolf, hopefully encouraging her to mate. The 2-year-old wolf has never mated before.
Asha will likely be released back into the wild – somewhere inside the recovery zone – in the spring after mating season ends.
“They’re hoping that she’ll breed,” Anderson said. “Last year, she did not end up mating with the male she was placed with, so we’ll see if she’s changed her mind this year.”
Anderson was one of the many wildlife advocates who pushed officials to leave Asha alone while she wandered northern New Mexico.
“I think Asha was really a messenger of the story that wolves need that kind of space,” she said. “Wolves need to be able to roam, and we need additional subpopulations of wolves to really see a Mexican gray wolf recovered.”
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials confirmed Asha was not considered a threat, and their decision to recapture her was based on their recovery permit.
Anderson says there’s no way of predicting whether Asha will make a third trip to northern New Mexico. However, she says it’s possible other wolves could follow Asha’s path.
“Asha has been up there twice,” she said. “She’s laid a scent trail for other wolves to follow. She’s sort of broken ground for this generation of wolves to start exploring that habitat.”
Anderson noted wildlife advocates hand-delivered a petition with 8,000 signatures to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office to leave Asha alone.
Many advocates believe Asha’s similar journeys into northern New Mexico are a sign the northern I-40 border of the recovery zone may be outdated.
“I hope the rest of us have learned that it’s really arbitrary to draw a line on a map and expect wild animals to confine themselves to it,” she said. “The lesson I hope [Asha] learned, she needs to figure out how to lose that collar and go rogue without a tracking device affixed to her neck.”