Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Asha the Lobo captures the heart of New Mexico

Lobos are culturally and environmentally significant to New Mexico and a Mexican gray wolf that wildlife experts say is resilient in face of peril and breaks assumptions, something many New Mexicans can relate to, is back after a long trip.

Asha the Mexican gray wolf #2754 has now returned to the northern part of the state for the second time in under a year, creating excitement for wildlife experts and hope among conservation groups. 

Asha’s journey back to the state took her on a 650 mile trip after she was released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June to increase the wild wolf population of Mexican gray wolves, which is vital to recovery of the species population according to Western Watersheds Project.

She was found roaming in northern New Mexico in January 2023.

The blue marks on the map represent some of the areas where Asha was tracked in 2023. (Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region)

Aislin Maestas from the US Fish and Wildlife Service said Asha was born in the “Rocky Prairie pack in Arizona in 2021.”

Mexican gray wolves have low population numbers after nearing extinction due in part because of agricultural development and over-hunting. They are the most endangered gray wolf species in North America and used to roam all over New Mexico and the Southwest, and one of the most endangered mammals.

Mexican gray wolves have been largely unable to traverse their natural habitats in the past hundred years, with difficult journeys due to roads and borders placed in their migration paths

However, Asha’s current movements despite those barriers are giving the groups tracking her hope.

Sally Paez from New Mexico Wild says that she hopes Asha’s travels will continue, because the state needs her to be part of the ecosystem.

Since wolves are apex predators, their presence vastly improves ecosystem health and can prevent catastrophes such as wildfires and irrevocable loss of biodiversity.

Paez anticipates that Asha might be heading to southern Colorado, Arizona, the Grand Canyon region, or Utah because wolves thrive in those habitats. 

She believes Asha may also choose to stay in northern New Mexico, however. 

“It’s perseverance, instincts, or whatever is driving her to do this,” Paez said with awe.

Asha seen roaming at a sanctuary before she was released in Jan. 2023. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region)

Asha has traveled in surprising routes with paths that lack wildlife crossings, and where Paez says “there’s actually really limited special paths,” leading to concerns about her safety. 

She has a tracker that was put on during her time with wildlife biologists, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service saying “she was captured and fitted with a radio collar in the fall of 2022.”

However, Paez says these routes predate the interstates and housing developments that currently exist there. 

She believes we can learn a lot about the traditional hunting and breeding pathways that Mexican wolves used to freely roam by watching Asha in action. 

Paez adds that one reason Asha’s travels have been so spectacular is that it resists any human attempts to control her path. 

Learning about Asha and her travels can help people learn about wolves’ instinctual desire to roam, experts say. One wildlife biologist who worked with Asha at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Melissa Kreutzian, said she “is clever and aware of her surroundings.”

After Asha was captured in northern New Mexico last year, she was kept at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and introduced to male wolves that wildlife management hoped she could breed with to increase the population. 

However, although Kreutzian said she got along with the other wolves, Asha was uninterested in mating with them. Asha’s subsequent tracking has led observers to the realization that she defies many other assumptions. 

Paez offered that wolf rescue associations, interest groups, and wildlife experts have all been stunned at how far and fast she travels. 

If you would like to track Asha’s progress, her recent location is updated every two weeks. She is #2754 on the GIS wolf tracking map, which Paez says helps understand “a little piece of the puzzle of her life.” 

Asha is a spitfire who does what she needs to get done, a quality wildlife and ecosystem advocates such as Paez see New Mexicans supporting. Kreutzian said that while at the refuge, they had to move the security cameras higher up, “otherwise she would jump and take them down.”

(Image courtesy Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project)

She said that it is thrilling to think that according to the maps, Asha may have traveled very close to where Paez lives, and many New Mexicans feel the same excitement. 

There are many organizations rooting for Asha’s continued movement and resources available for all ages to learn more about her and other Mexican gray wolves. If anyone lives in the Southwest and would like to see if Asha has been near them, it is possible.

Paez said “we’re really excited that they’ve let her roam and hopefully she’s in a very safe place – maybe she’s just looking for hunting grounds, but maybe she’s looking for a mate.”

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