By SUE MAJOR HOLMES / Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE - Another Mexican gray wolf has been found dead in southwestern New Mexico, dealing a further setback to a struggling program to reintroduce the endangered animals along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
The female wolf was found dead on Oct. 12 in Sierra County. It was the fourth wolf found dead since June.
A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, Tom Buckley, said the wolf's body was sent to the agency's forensics laboratory in Ashland, Ore., to find out what killed the animal.
The male wolf that had been traveling with her has not been spotted, but Buckley said there's no reason to believe something happened to him.
He said there had been no mortality signal from the male wolf's radio collar. The signal is set off when an animal does not move for a set time.
The two animals, known as Morgart's Pack, were in the Gila National Forest in September, according to the program's monthly update.
Government agencies began reintroducing Mexican gray wolves into the wild in the two states in 1998. Biologists had predicted a self-sustaining wild population of 100 wolves before now, but a count early this year found 42 between the two states, down from 52 the year before.
The subspecies of the gray wolf had been exterminated in the wild by the 1930s.
Fish and Wildlife officials announced earlier this month they were postponing the release of eight wolves in Arizona's Apache National Forest until next year. The program originally expected to release the animals this fall, but managers decided it was not the right time for a successful release. The three other wolf deaths this year include two males from Hawks Nest Pack in eastern Arizona who were found shot to death this summer, and the alpha male of the San Mateo pack in New Mexico that was found dead in June from an undetermined cause.
In addition, the alpha male from the Paradise Pack in Arizona disappeared in April. Buckley said the program still doesn't know what happened. The federal agency, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Operation Game Thief and private groups and individuals have offered a reward of up to $58,000 for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for shooting deaths of Mexican gray wolves.