While no longer an icon for pristine wilderness, the wolf is a symbol for conscientious caring for the environment, for conservation that is enduring.
By now the Bluestem’s newest members, pups born in the spring, have felt the chill of the coming winter and have chased their first snowflakes. They are half-grown, six-months-old, big enough and strong enough to run with the pack.
Field team members, who monitor the location and status of the endangered Mexican gray wolves, observed the pack of eleven feeding on an elk carcass near Lake Sierra Blanca in mid-October. The lake is in the heart of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona, the traditional territory of the pack.
The Bluestem Pack, really an extended family of related wolves, is made up of the alpha pair (parents), five juveniles born in 2013, and one collared* male pup born this year. The others are probably pups from this year’s litter that have yet to be captured and collared. According to Jane Packard in Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation (edited by D. Mech and L. Boitani) the function of the family group at this stage is to provide a hunting school which gives the juveniles, “opportunities to hone their hunting skills while traveling with the family”. She goes on to say, “most wolves disperse from their natal pack between the ages of 9 and 36 months”.
Only one of the wolves, a female, from the 2013 litter has dispersed. She has been traveling for several months further south in the Apache-Sitgreaves and, so far, there have been no reports that she has found a mate or joined another pack.
It’s a dangerous world out in the wild for wolves. Of the four pups born to the Bluestem Pack in 2012 three died before reaching their second birthdays. The one surviving wolf from the litter, a female, dispersed, found a mate, and is now the alpha female in the Hawks Nest Pack. They have established a territory north of the Bluestems’s and are raising at least one pup.
Twelve years ago the original Bluestem alpha pair and several of their pups and juveniles were released in a place called Fish Bench. It’s not too far from where the pack runs, hunts, and raises their young today, proof that, in spite of being hunted to near extinction, Mexican wolves never forgot how to be wild.
*Pups are captured by the field team to verify their genetics, check their physical condition and to outfit them with radio collars for tracking purposes.