Mr. Goodbar, a Mexican gray wolf, was heading south through the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico on Nov. 22. Perhaps he was on the prowl for a mate. But his journey was cut short when he came upon the border wall.
Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, noticed Mr. Goodbar on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) map that shows the location of Mexican gray wolves wearing GPS trackers.
Robinson, who lives near Silver City, New Mexico, pressed USFWS officials for updates on the wolf’s whereabouts.
What he learned was alarming, but not shocking: by 5 a.m. Nov. 23 Mr. Goodbar had reached an area of the U.S.-Mexico border where a wall was constructed during the Trump administration. The wolf paced for 23 miles, unable to continue south. He was tracked at the border as late as 10 p.m. on Nov. 27. From there, he headed north toward the Gila National Forest.
“This is exactly what we said would happen,” Robinson said.
The Center for Biological Diversity has been raising the alarm that the border wall cuts off wildlife connectivity. The Center has brought multiple lawsuits to stop border wall construction and to protect the Mexican gray wolf population. This is the first time they directly observed how the border wall stymied a wolf’s path.
“It is speculative to suggest how a barrier may have impacted the wolf’s movements,” Aislinn Maestas, a public affairs specialist at the USFWS, said in a statement. “(e.g., absent a barrier the wolf may have followed the same path along dirt roads, moved to the south and then to the north, or proceeded further to the south into Mexico). The wolf continues to disperse widely, like wolves often do this time of year, and is currently near the plains of San Agustin.”
From Haiti to Texas:How migrants arrived to Del Rio and why the wall didn’t stop them
Mexican gray wolf population lacks genetic diversity
Mexican gray wolves were known to cross the border before this section of wall, east of the Columbus port of entry, was built. In 2017, two wolves entered the U.S. from Mexico in this area. Wandering south, Mr. Goodbar may have been in search of a mate.
“Mr. Goodbar’s Thanksgiving was forlorn, since he was thwarted in romancing a female and hunting together for deer and jackrabbits,” Robinson said in a statement. “But beyond one animal’s frustrations, the wall separates wolves in the Southwest from those in Mexico and exacerbates inbreeding in both populations.”
Genetic diversity in the U.S. population of Mexican gray wolves is alarmingly low and genetic connectivity between wolves in Mexico and the U.S. is important for their long-term survival.
“This was all unbroken habitat until three years ago,” Robinson said, referring to the area of southern New Mexico where Mr. Goodbar was tracked. “There is a desperate need to increase diversity in the U.S. population … A wall has proved to be an impediment.”
Advocates say this section of border wall in southern New Mexico impacts habitats of other species like mountain lions, kit foxes and bobcats.
Mexican gray wolf makes a comeback
The border wall is just the latest man-made threat to the Mexican gray wolf’s survival. As the Western U.S. was settled, the animals that wolves preyed on began disappearing. The wolves attacked livestock instead, earning the ire of ranchers. In the early- to mid-20th century, the U.S. government exterminated Mexican wolves, nearly to the point of extinction, on behalf of the ranching industry.
It wasn’t until 1973, with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, that the U.S. government changed course and began protecting wolves. But the damage was done. Only seven of the surviving Mexican gray wolves successfully bred in captivity. That means all the Mexican gray wolves alive today descend from only seven ancestors.
The species was reintroduced to the United States in 1998 and Mexico in 2011. Now the population of Mexican wolves in the United States is around 200 and another 40 live in Mexico. The population is centered in New Mexico and Arizona. Mr. Goodbar was born at a Kansas zoo and released into the wild in Arizona in 2020.
Follow Martha Pskowski on Twitter: @psskow