05 | DIC | 2019
The Mexican wolf is no longer extinct
The Mexican wolf lives in the wild in the Janos Biosphere Reserve - Photo: Yadin Xolalpa/EL UNIVERSAL

The Mexican wolf is no longer extinct

28/11/2019
13:48
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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Although the first captive breeding works took place in the U.S., Mexico has worked hard to reintroduce the Mexican wolf into the wild in the Janos Biosphere Reserve in Chihuahua

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Roy T. McBride was a hunter with a new mission: to follow the tracks of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), but this time it was not to shed blood and get it as a trophy; the idea was to capture it to start a captive breeding program. By the end of the 1970s, this hunter was commissioned to travel to Mexico and find the species already extermined in the U.S.

So much hate against “the bad guy of tales” finished with the smallest wolf subspecies in North America, but during three years of McBride’s mission in Mexico, five wolves had already been captured and for 1995 they became 100.

From the laboratory to the grasslands
Doctor Gerardo Ceballos, in charge of the Laboratory of Ecology and Conservation of Wild Fauna of the Ecology Institute, points out that the first captive breeding works took place in the U.S., but that later, there were important efforts from Mexico to reintroduce them to the wild in the Janos Biosphere Reserve in Chihuahua.

The work has been rewarding: They were able to reclassify the Mexican wolf from extinct to in danger of extinction. For the researcher, this means that conservation efforts between nations, society, private initiative, and government, can work out.

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Ceballos explains that it was precisely in his laboratory where years ago they elaborated the necessary studies to design this reserve with over half a million hectares. It was planned to include from the lowest and driest part, with bushes and grasslands, up to the high part of mountains. “One of the objectives of the Janos Reserve was to have, in the medium term, all its big mammals, the same number of species in Yellowstone, the first national park in the world,” he says and adds that the wolf’s reintroduction is going well, but now the next step must be given: to advance toward Coahuila and Zacatecas with new populations.

The Janos Biosphere Reserve is a project that includes the conservation of the natural environments with the reintegration of all the fauna elements that have been lost. There, they began to work with the recovery of the Mexican prairie dog and other species, like the bison, of which Ceballos says there is a population of over 200 animals and there are five genetically pure populations. “Among other species in danger are pronghorns and bighorn sheep, we would only be missing to reintroduce a couple of species for there to be basically of the ones that used to live there in 1900.”

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The researcher announces a new project that will strengthen the ecologic reserve: a massive project of grasslands restoration that are being invaded in that area by plants like mesquite. “With more knowledge about grasslands, we are proposing the biggest restoration project in Latin America: 100,000 hectares in the next years.”

Natural grasslands in our territory cover a surface of nearly 6% of the national territory. Ceballos explains that this project would be a collaboration with the federal and state governments. “It is not a complicated task; it is laborious and needs resources, but it comprises the same territory where the wold is, whose population is now in the high parts of the mountain, but it will eventually scatter and go down.”

Indeed, one of the tools that help the country in species conservations is the NOM-059 which assesses which species are in danger and thus its habitat needs some kind of special management or care.

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Doctor Esther Quintero, the coordinator of priority species of the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio), says that the list should be updated every three years to have the most recent information about species conservation and to keep actions based in evidence, but the processes have been slower. The works of the recent update started in 2014 and the annex was published recently with 84 species on it. It highlights the presence of eight species of seagrasses, essential populations for the sea and coast ecosystem. “They are very important, they are places where commercial species spend the first part of their lives and they are essential in front of climate change because seagrasses, along with mangroves, hold large amounts of carbon and prevent it from going into the atmosphere and for the planet to keep warming.” It also includes marine species that are very important for the health of corals, such as parrotfish.

In addition, it included 13 species of Dalbergia, from where the woods known as marimbas are extracted, used for the musical instrument. They are protected in a moment of high demand and illegal traffic to Asia. Also, for the first time, wild cottons entered the list with an important reservoir of genetic material.

Quintero adds that there needs to be more work with local communities for them to be involved in the conservation of the new species on the list. For his part, Ceballos points out that a more structured environmental policy that combines conservation with development is needed. Finally, biologist Sandra Petrone, a conservation officer in WWF-Mexico, points out that conservation faces big challenges not only in Mexico but also in the world due to habitat loss and the exploitation of resources, but 2020 will be crucial, for the current valid framework 2011-2020 will end and strategies must be reassessed keeping in mind that species are not protected for their charisma but because they are the future of humanity.

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