By Mary Shapiro
Adventurous Bob and his clan, in a way, came to the Eureka area from the Southwest May 20 to retire.
That day, the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center (often called the Wolf Sanctuary) become home to Bob, patriarch Mexican gray wolf of the Saddle Pack, his mate and five offspring. The seven were escorted here from New Mexico by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel to take up retirement at the center.
Bob's adventures led to the trip.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's Mexican Wolf Recovery Program removed the Saddle Pack from the wild due to what they called "Bob's various escapades."
But his kids may get a ticket back out in the near future. FWS officials have requested Bob's pack live at the Wild Canid Center because his offspring remain release candidates for the wild. They said the center has the best facilities for rearing releasable wolves or, in this case, "keeping the wild still wild," said Susan Lyndaker Lindsey, executive director of the center.
The seven-member pack was driven to the Wild Canid Center by Maggie Dwire, assistant Mexican Wolf Recovery Program team leader, and Dr. Susan Dicks, a veterinarian with the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program.
Lindsey said the Saddle Pack consists of alpha male 732 (nicknamed "Bob" for his foreshortened tail), alpha female 797 (who has no name), their four yearling male offspring and a female pup born this spring. The little female pup's birth delayed the transfer of the Saddle Pack until she was more independent of her mother, Lindsey said.
Born in 2002 at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Albuquerque, N.M., Bob was first released to the wild in June 2003 as a young member of the Red Rock Pack, officials said.
By August 2003, however, Bob was all alone and was implicated in boundary violations - going outside the wolf recovery area - and for killing livestock. He was returned to captivity at Sevilleta to await new opportunities for pairing and release.
In spring 2004, Bob got another chance at freedom.
The alpha female of the Saddle Pack, now Bob's mate, was captured and taken to Sevilleta. There, she gave birth to a litter of five pups that needed a father.
After consulting with Lindsey, who is also behavioral and husbandry adviser for the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, FWS officials successfully introduced Bob as her new mate and surrogate father of the pups.
In August 2004, Bob and his mate led the pups into the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Their additional litters were born in 2005 and 2006.
But the pack grew with more mouths to feed, and the aging alpha pair - both Bob and his mate are now about 7 - turned more frequently to killing livestock.
A permanent removal order was issued for them just before a new litter arrived in April 2007. Trapping was unsuccessful. Bob was so elusive and alert that sharpshooters were called in. But he escaped a scary fate.
Twice, the sharpshooters confirmed they had killed Bob, shooting at him from the air.
"Each time, Bob reappeared - although once with his GPS (global positioning system) collar damaged by a bullet," Lindsey said.
But Bob's days in the wild came to an end on May 26, 2007, when he was trapped and returned to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility, his birthplace, where he was reunited with his mate and new litter of pups.
For his age, Bob was still peppy, and there he also fathered another litter well out of the normal breeding season for Mexican gray wolves, despite his mate being on birth control.
"Bob is a wolf with a colorful past," Lindsey said. "He has sired many wildborn offspring, and those joining him at his retirement home at Wild Canid remain candidates for release back to the wild in Arizona and New Mexico."
She said the wolves' arrival went smoothly.
"Some of Bob and his mate's offspring are still in the wild," Lindsey said. "Even though Bob's retiring, he won't get a gold watch. But he and his family did get a three-acre enclosure with a pond. In the wilderness out west, they only had creeks, so the wolves are really interested in exploring their new pond, including Bob and one of his sons, who we call Bob Jr. due to his also having a short tail."
Bringing them to the Wild Canid Center will allow them an opportunity for a longer life, she said.
"We commonly get wolves in captivity living to 12, and Mexican grays can get to 16," she said. "We often become a geriatric home for animals when they're done breeding. And we're bringing Bob and his family back to a portion of their roots because some of their direct relatives were from here."
Lindsey said FWS is selective to where the animals go.
"They wanted to ensure the kids will be able to go back to the wild, and we can guarantee that," she said.
U.S. praises Wolf Sanctuary
Founded in 1971 by Marlin Perkins, the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center in southwest St. Louis County near Eureka is a recognized leader in canid conservation. It is a private, non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of the wolf and other endangered canids through education, research and captive breeding.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proclaimed the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center as the "cornerstone" of its wolf reintroduction programs.
For more information, visit the website www.wildcanidcenter.org.