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Naming Wolves to Conserve Them
Santa Fe, NM. WildEarth Guardians today announced the continuation of its wolf-naming contest with the selection of eight names that are candidates for a pair of wolves who inhabit the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. The names are for the alpha male and alpha female of the Middle Fork Pack, who are currently identified as “AF861” and “AM871.”
Among the names selected are Aldo, which honor the great conservationist Aldo Leopold who became an advocate for wolves and provided the inspiration for America’s first wilderness, the Gila; and Trinity which is a tragic symbol of the fact that both of these wolves have only three legs due to trapping and shooting injuries.
WildEarth Guardians devised the contest as a part of its ongoing campaign to enhance Mexican wolf recovery and to deepen the connection between individual wolves and the general public.
“It’s high time we give names and faces to our rare Mexican lobos, rather than diminish their intrinsic worth with sterile numbers and indifferent policies,” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians.
The idea of naming wolves is not novel. In the old West, pioneering settlers also commonly named wolves such as “Lefty” and “Two Toes.” Ernest Thompson Seton immortalized the most famous New Mexican wolves, naming them “Blanca” and “King of Currumpaw.” Initially a government-paid trapper in New Mexico, Seton killed these two wolves but later regretted his actions only to become a nationally-known author and early wolf conservationist.
More recently, when a young wolf trekked to California – the first of his species to return to the state in 90 years – Californians named him “Journey” to mark his intrepid expedition from Oregon.
The Middle Fork pack’s dominant pair is particularly special: each survives with just three legs. The alpha female had her leg shot by a poacher, while the alpha male sustained an injury from a steel-jawed, leg-hold trap. The Middle Fork pack’s disabilities also symbolize the hobbled Mexican gray wolf’s conservation status. Despite reintroducing wolves in 1998 with a recovery goal of 100 wild wolves by 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts have faltered.
“Every day wolves in the Southwest face a phalanx of illegal poachers and trappers, while state and federal have agents have taken far too few measures to protect them,” said Horning. “By naming the Middle Fork pack’s wolves, we individuate and celebrate their resiliency in the face of adversity and call attention to the plight of all Mexican wolves in the wild,” he added.
Last week the public had submitted over 800 names and then a panel of four judges selected eight final names. Now the public is invited to make the final two selections as part of an online poll; the contest closes on July 27th.
“The Middle Fork pack pair have managed to hunt elk and deer and raise pups even as they survive on only three legs,” stated Horning. “It’s time to celebrate their spirit of resilience and persistence and to conserve this iconic couple and all of their kind in the wilds of the Southwest.”
Background on Selected Names
The Four Final Male Names Chosen: Aldo, Zapata, Valiente and Bacho
Aldo — This name honors the great conservationist and wolf advocate, Aldo Leopold, who first came to the Greater Gila in 1911 to work for the Forest Service. Aldo’s vision and tenacity later helped to convince the U.S. Government to designate the Gila wilderness, America’s first, which is where this wolf now roams. Aldo’s eloquent essay, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” shares his own ecological epiphany about the importance of wolves and laments U.S. wolf extermination policies.
Zapata — Emiliano Zapata was a Mexican revolutionary who fought for the Mexican people’s freedom and lands. He became a legend in Mexico for his fight to protect the lands and rights of the most marginalized peoples. Likewise, this alpha male wolf has become somewhat legendary as he fights to survive in the midst of hostile local ranchers who’ve sought to have him and his mate killed for years.
Valiente — In Spanish “valiente” means brave or valiant, a name well suited for this alpha male given that he was caught in a trapper’s steel leg-hold trap and, as a result, had his left leg amputated in 2008. Since then this alpha male has chased down deer and elk, raised pups, and avoided poachers. His valor and resilience inspire this selection.
Bacho—“Bacho” is the Apache word for wolf and given that the Middle Fork Pack roams the highlands that were once the summer home of the Apache people, this selection recognizes them. In addition, this name honors a now deceased wolf pack of the same name, whose alpha male was killed by a poacher; poaching remains one of the biggest threats to Mexican wolf recovery.
The Four Final Female Names Chosen: Esperanza, Gila, Trinity, and Persistence
Esperanza – “Esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope. In addition to honoring the long history of Spanish culture in the Mexican wolf’s region, this beautiful name conveys the multiple feelings these wild animals evoke including our hope for their survival and conservation.
Gila — Early Spanish explorers to the area of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona where Mexican gray wolves now exist gave the name Gila (which they spelled “Xila”) to the river, whose headwaters are the home territory of this wolf and her mate. Some believe the word may be derived from an Apache word for mountain.
Trinity — The English word “trinity” derives from the Latin “trinitas,” meaning three or triad. The alpha female of the Middle Fork packs survives on only three legs; one had to be amputated after she suffered a gunshot wound to her front right leg by a poacher, and thus this name captures one of the defining physical characteristics of this resilient female.
Persistence — This alpha female not only survives on three legs but also has persisted for years amidst ranchers who have targeted her for permanent removal because she has occasionally preyed on cattle that are permitted to graze on national forests. The ability of this female wolf to endure and overcome physical limitations in a hostile landscape is a constant reminder to us of what it means to persist.