Field Notes: Zoo staff helps save wolves in the Blue Range Recovery Area
October 5, 2016

Enrichment Coordinator Carrie was one of six El Paso Zoo staff who helped save wolves this weekend by mending and building fences in the Deep Creek Allotment, which is part of the Blue Range Recovery Area in the Gila Wilderness. There are only 97 Mexican grey wolves in the wild, and saving species is a part of our mission as a Zoo! 

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There are not many instances where building a barrier bridges a community. But for Mexican grey wolves denning in the Deep Creek Allotment of the Gila Wilderness, a fence is exactly what is needed. 

Here's Carrie's Field Notes - a retrospective from a weekend saving wolves!

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The weekend of September 30, a group of six employees from the El Paso Zoo drove high into the Gila Mountains to volunteer for a Mexican Wolf Conservation effort. The effort, hosted by Defenders of Wildlife and Wild Earth Guardians, featured a weekend long stay far from civilization and deep into Mexican Wolf territory. The mission of our trip was to help repair barbed wire fences that corral cattle and keep them from wandering into wolf hunting ranges. Preying on livestock plays a large part in the hunting and killing of Mexican Wolves.

Though the fences will not keep wolves off of private lands owned by cattle ranchers, they do keep the cattle there, and out of preservation areas where the wolves primarily hunt. The hope is that if we can help minimize the taking of livestock by wolves, we can ease the tension between the predators and ranchers, working for a time when the inclination to shoot wolves is minimized.  These fences extend into high altitudes, in areas difficult for the forestry services to reach easily. Wildfires in the area have caused trees to fall and destroy sections of fencing, as well as burning wooden stays that help stabilize the fences. Our task was to walk a section of fence line and repair or replace it where needed.

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We arrived at our campsite late Friday evening, a good 45 minute drive from the town of Reserve, New Mexico, straight up into the Gila Mountains. After setting up tents and camp in general, we gathered around the fire to learn more about the wolf project from our leaders. For the next few hours we were surrounded by the bugling of elk all around us as they searched for mates. Saturday was a long, yet productive day of trekking up the mountain while carrying pounds and pounds of fencing and tools.

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We worked our way upwards, replacing wooden stays, stabilizing t-posts, and restringing broken barbed wire. There were many places where trees had fallen on the fence, so we used our hand saws, brute force, and sheer will to remove the trees and fix the fencing. It was truly a team building exercise, as it took sometimes five of us to move the logs away from the fence line.

After a long day of hard, physical labor, we had our campfire meals and settled around again for another night of storytelling and learning about Mexican Wolf conservation efforts.

It was in the late evening darkness that we received an unintended “thank you” from the very ones we were there to help. What our guides deciphered as about five or six individuals, we heard the resident wolf pack calling out in the night. They were yipping and barking and a bit of howling, and it sent shivers up our spines. It was not only a once in a lifetime event, but it was also a reminder and affirmation of the importance of what we were doing. It is a sound that nearly brought us to tears, and will likely stay with us for a lifetime.

(Wanna hear the wolves at the El Paso Zoo howling? Click here for Zephyr and click here for Ivy.)

The following day was another few hours of fence repair, taking us to the peak of the mountain, around 10,000 feet. The view was spectacular, allowing us to see across the Mexican Wolf Blue Range Recovery Area into Arizona.

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We had completed repairing nearly four miles of fencing, and it was a very satisfying feat. All of us left this trip with not only a sense of accomplishment, but a renewed respect for all those doing field work. These are tough, resilient people who walk the front lines of wildlife conservation.

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