Four Mexican Wolves Released in Apache National Forest -- Releases of 11 More Wolves to Occur Over Next Three Months
Four Mexican gray wolves tasted freedom today, the first of 15 to be released into the Apache National Forest this year as the restoration of the species to the wild continues. An adult pair with two pups born last year were set free from the Turkey Creek acclimation pen, about 16 miles northeast of Clifton, Arizona, where they have been held since January 13, 1999.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other wolf recovery partners (Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service, and USDA - Wildlife Services) plan to release pairs and family groups into the forest over the next 3 months.

"Todays release is an important milestone in wolf recovery," said Nancy Kaufman, Regional Director of the Services Southwest Region. "Our efforts this year will build on lessons learned from the 1998 releases. Well use a variety of techniques and some new locations for wolf releases, and devote greater resources to wolf monitoring and outreach to forest visitors."

"The key to the success of this effort is the survival of wild-born wolf pups, and management actions in the field will be driven by that objective," said David Parsons, Mexican Wolf Recovery Leader for the Service. "Im expecting great progress this year in our efforts to reintroduce this ecologically important species to the Apache and Gila National Forests."

In addition to the four wolves released today, a pair of wolves is already free-ranging in the forest -- a male that was released into the wild last March, whose mate was shot on August 7, 1998, plus a new female, born at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque in 1996 and paired with the male in November. Another male who lost his mate last year was paired with a female, born at the Phoenix Zoo in 1996, also in November. They are currently being held in the Campbell Blue acclimation pen.

If all of the wolves survive in the wild this year, there will be 14 adults and three yearlings in the forest, Parsons noted, plus any pups born this spring. Six adult pairs could potentially reproduce in the wild this year.

On March 17, the interagency field team will return three members of the former

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Endangered and/or Threatened species