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My Birthday Wolf
On my desk is a worn photo of a Mexican wolf. Unframed and well traveled, it is one of my most prized possessions. I met the wolf in the photo on the morning of my 17th birthday.
I didn’t know then how meeting her would change my life, but I’ve carried her story with me since that day. Her name is F1053, but to me, she will always be my birthday wolf.
It was a miserably raw and windy morning when my high school wildlife biology class packed into an old school van to head to the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, just an hour south of Albuquerque. The class focused on the scientific foundations of wildlife and conservation biology, and offered numerous opportunities to be in the field to see what science looked like.
From studying road kill to electroshocking invasive brown trout, we collaborated with a variety of wildlife management agencies to learn the hard skills and ethics of conservation biology.
And it was my good fortune that “wolf day” fell on my birthday.
In preparation for our day with wolves, my homework was to read Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain” from The Sand County Almanac. As we followed several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trucks along the miles of dirt road leading to the wolf pre-release facility, one famous line echoed in my head, “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.” I didn’t anticipate seeing a wolf die, but I surely wanted to see that green fire.
The holding facility on the Sevilleta is one of three pre-release facilities around the country. Prior to release in the wild, wolves are held at these facilities and evaluated for their suitability to be released into the wild. The perils of release into the wild include the possibility of attack from another wolf, a chance that hunting skills would not be developed and threats of disease or injury.
If F1053 adapted and evaded the risks both natural and from those who might seek to see her dead, then the ultimate goal was to provide a mate for the alpha male of the Fox Mountain Pack.
When F1053 and I met in a narrow canyon in a wide holding pen that she shared with another female wolf, I searched her eyes for that glimmer of green. In them, I sensed there was a part of her wildness that she had yet to fully realize—a wildness that I hoped she would find in the Gila, once she joined a wolf pack in the wild.
As we loaded her crate into the bed of a truck for her three-hour transport to the Gila and release the next day into the wild, I couldn’t help but feeling as though this was my small contribution to honor Leopold’s Legacy.
Three days later, the Interagency Field Team received report of an injured wolf. By the time they reached the reported location, the injured wolf had died. Inspection of the radio collar confirmed the wolf was F1053. Inspection of her body confirmed she had died of a gunshot wound.
I did not see the green fire in her eyes, and I did not see her die, but her death gave birth to a conviction of my own: animals and ecosystems cannot speak for themselves.
Without advocacy, the science of endangered species falls on deaf ears and recovering wolves in the Gila will be impossible. Back then, I did not understand why someone would shoot F1053, only that the scientific justification for her importance alone could not have saved her.
Today, I am instrumental in the movement Guardians’ is leading to counteract social opposition to wolves in the Greater Gila. In my experience, the intense hatred and anger for the Mexican wolf is much more about hatred and fear of the federal government than hatred or fear of the animal.
Meeting F1053 on my birthday, her subsequent release and death is a story that will never leave me. Today, I work as Guardians’ Greater Gila advocate for full recovery for wolves to their historic range.
F1053 never had the freedom to be wild, but in my role at Guardians I am fighting to ensure that every other Mexican wolf does.
The photograph of F1053 on my desk continues to guide and inspire me to work strategically and pragmatically to ensure nature has room to exist and thrive. Every day she reminds me that wildness isn’t just important, it is essential.
For the wolves,
Gila Campaign Fellow