Recovering Mexican Wolves: How Radio Collars Contribute to Conservation

A wolf track in dried mud
Tracks, like this Mexican wolf paw print, help biologists track wolves during annual ground surveys. Photo: Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team

Check out the previous post in this series:
Recovering Mexican Wolves: Every Wolf Counts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual Mexican wolf count starts in earnest every fall. Beginning in October, Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (Interagency Field Team) staff conduct ground counts across Arizona and New Mexico. During this time, wolves are documented by driving on roads and hiking canyons, trails, or other areas closed to motor vehicles. Biologists use GPS locations and radio signals from collared wolves to find the wolf packs and obtain visual observations. Confirmation of uncollared wolves is achieved through visual observation, remote cameras, howling, scat (poo or droppings), and tracks.

Two Mexican wolf pups from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas were cross-fostered into the San Mateo Pack in New Mexico in early May 2019. The two-month-old pups are seen in this video via trail cam with their five foster family siblings and adult Mexican wolves.

Efforts are also made to document pup survival. Priority is given to Mexican wolf packs with pups that were cross-fostered in the spring. All the survey data are then recorded in a database and used to make management decisions.

Planning for a successful count

Once the database is complete, targets for the count and capture are identified by the Interagency Field Team. At the top of the list are Mexican wolf packs without any radio tracking collars, followed closely by wolves with failing collars. The radio tracking collars use GPS and very high frequency (VHF) technology and are essential tools in the management of wild wolves.

Radio collars track movements of individual wolves and packs as well as let the Interagency Field Team know when wolves are denning (and pups are being whelped) and when a death occurs.

Radio collars also help the Interagency Field Team manage wolves to mitigate and avoid attacks on cattle through a variety of non-lethal techniques, such as hazing wolves, range riders and providing diversionary food caches to avoid depredations.

A map of northern Arizona and New Mexico showing the home ranges of known wolf packs.
Data collected during the annual Mexican wolf count helps biologists track the home ranges, as shown above, of all known wolf packs within the recovery area. The IFT will calculate the 2020 home ranges of collared Mexican wolf packs this winter.

Once the list of target wolves and packs has been developed, the days are planned out and the aerial portion of the wolf count is ready to begin.

In our next post, we’ll take to the skies to show you how the aerial portion of the wolf count is conducted. Stay tuned!

Continuing posts in this series:
Recovering Mexican Wolves: An Aerial Approach
Recovering Mexican Wolves: A Quick Health Check

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