By TARA ALATORRE
SCOTTSDALE –With only about 114 Mexican gray wolves roaming isolated parts of Arizona and New Mexico, spotting one in the wild is a very rare once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most, but you can still hear the Lobos sing if you’re privy – and it’s surprising close.
The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) is located near the McDowell Mountain preserve in North Scottsdale and it rescues injured, orphaned or abandoned wild, native animals, with a goal of rehabilitating and releasing them back into the wild; or providing a sanctuary for animals that can’t be released. The non-profit organization also provides acres of sanctuary that are used as a holding facility for the captive population of Mexican wolves in the federal Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan.
Using absolutely no government funds or assistance SWCC covers the entire costs of feeding and caring for the Mexican wolves along with the other animals that are being held at its sanctuary.
“Our operations budget is at $1 million per year,” said Nikki Julien SWCC’s Director of Education and Special Projects. “In medications and medical supplies (not equipment), we spent $120,000 in 2017 roughly.”
Most of the wolves live at SWCC full-time because they have been “retired” from the breeding program and need a permanent home, but still contribute DNA to the frozen genetics bank. One wolf named Cinderella (F1219) will be transferred into a federal breeding facility this fall.
The collected reproductive material will be used to hopefully breed litters of pups with the best genetic chance of survival. Because all Mexican wolves alive today are derived from merely seven descendants, genetic diversity has been an issue in the species recovery.
“We have males and females donate genetic material, but we do not know if that material has been used yet,” Julien said.
When I arrive at SWCC for a guided tour, it was a typical hot summer morning in the Valley, but my first impression was anything but normal. Upon my first moments at SWCC, I was greeted immediately by two howling Lobos strolling the perimeter of their habitat while checking me out.
It was pure desert magic to hear the wolves’ call of the wild.
Moments into arriving at SWCC I am locking eyes with two beautiful wolf mates, Serenity (F883) and Brio (M942), hearing their majestic song. Serenity, who is quite the singer, gets the rest of the pack howling, and soon I am being serenaded by some of the rarest animals in the world.
It is a song to be cherished.
Serenity, Brio and the seven other wolves here are not only keeping the howl of the wolf alive in Arizona, they are also keeping hope alive for the entire species, so it can regain its rightful place as a predator in the Southwest.
“All our wolves are a little bit older, we’re kind of like the retirement community of Mexican gray wolves,” said Liberty, a SWCC volunteer tour guide. “They’re used to us, but they still have that natural instinct, so they are a little skittish.”
The beautiful desert backdrop with unadulterated views of the McDowell Mountains that surround the facility only add to the experience when spending time with the desert creatures that live full-time at SWCC.
Despite the views, it’s the species conservation work being done here that is the main attraction and why it’s worth it to pay the nominal fee for a guided tour.
Volunteers will take you through the sanctuary that is home not just to wolves but also to bears, mountain lions, coati, foxes, coyotes, javelina, bobcats and even a jaguar leopard hybrid to mention just a few. Visitors will hear heart-wrenching stories of how the animals came to live at SWCC, while taking solace in knowing the animals are getting the best care possible, living captive but enriched lives.
Every volunteer and staff member are truly emotionally invested in each animal at the sanctuary and can tell visitors all the nitty gritty details about the animals’ personalities, habits, quirks and origin stories.
That genuine compassion allows SWCC to truly honor the wolves’ pack dynamic by keeping bonded pairs together, which is yet another reason this facility should be on your bucket-list if you’re a resident of the Valley.
Organizations like SWCC are critical for federal wildlife managers and the wolves attempting to reclaim their wild ranges. This sanctuary is truly making happy endings out of tragic beginnings.
If you would like to schedule a tour, find out about events, donate, sponsor an animal or find out more information about SWCC visit southwestwildlife.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 480-471-9109.