ALBUQUERQUE - The last of a pack of endangered Mexican gray wolves - an alpha male and female and their seven pups - have been trapped and removed from the Gila Wilderness, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife says the adults will not return to the wild.
The Saddle Pack's male wolf was captured on May 26, and the female and pups were captured May 31, the agency said. The pups could be released in the future.
The wolves are now in captivity at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge's Mexican wolf facility.
The federal government began releasing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998. Under the program, Fish and Wildlife permanently removes wolves after three confirmed livestock kills.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos criticized the removal of the last members of the pack. He said it was "a travesty that these precious lobo pups will now grow up in a cage."
He said the pack's last cattle killing was two months ago, and contended they would not necessarily have preyed on cattle again.
The Saddle Pack alpha male, born in captivity, is one of the most valuable animals genetically because he stems from all three Mexican wolf lineages, Robinson said.
Fish and Wildlife issued the removal order for the alpha pair on April 2.
"We are very pleased that we were able to capture the entire pack," said John Morgart, Mexican Wolf Recovery Program coordinator.
After the alpha female was captured, the team discovered she had moved her pups to a new den. The agency brought in more people to search because of the concern that if the pups weren't found within 24 to 48 hours, they were too young to survive, Mogart said.
The pups, about 3 weeks old, were found in a den a mile from the original den, the agency said.
The agency said their prognosis is very good.
As of the end of last year, there were 59 wolves throughout the reintroduction area in New Mexico and Arizona, 46 of them born in the wild.
Fish and Wildlife said five other wolf pairs have shown signs of denning this year.