Valentina’s Legacy

“Hey Cyrus! I have a surprise for you!” Six months ago, my friend Gabriela removed a bag from her closet and told me to open it. At the bottom of the bag my hand rubbed against something furry. I pulled it out, and a cute, ferocious face stared back at me with big, bright eyes. A tag on its neck named the beast in my hands: El Lobo, or the wolf. I took my new stuffed friend and began to pet it affectionately. Gabriela looked at us with interest. “What are you going to call it?” I deemed El Lobo female, and named her Valentina, after Gabriela’s favorite hot sauce. Valentina was a wonderful addition to my life: I hadn’t had a stuffed friend since I was 10, but my college friends still owned stuffed friends, and my friends and their stuffed friends often conversed. I was eager to use my new best friend to join in the fun, not knowing the relevance she would have in my summer internship.

Fast forward six months and I am at Defenders of Wildlife’s Washington, D.C. office as a Center for Conservation Innovation intern. The primary project I am working on is the “threats project,” where we take data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) documents to classify threats, habitats, and conservation status of threatened and endangered species. We work through random species lists to help minimize the risk of bias in how we interpret text, but every 15 species, we can pick a favorite species to work on. I wasted no time researching Valentina’s species, Canis lupus baileyi, the Mexican gray wolf. In addition to the Mexican gray wolf being one of the more well-known endangered species, it also has many more documents than some other species listed under the Endangered Species Act. As a result, I was able to locate the recent recovery plan for the species, which had an analysis section that covers all the threats to the species in detail.

I found that threats to Mexican gray wolves included hunting and vehicle collisions. Ranchers often see the wolves as a threat to their livestock, which leads people to kill wolves. But this method of lethal control really isn’t necessary because there are plenty of effective methods for keeping wolves away from livestock which don’t require the loss of wolves’ lives! In the 2017 Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery plan, FWS explains that they have taken measures to alleviate the wolf-livestock conflict through implementing “proactive management techniques such as range riders, fladry, non-lethal ammunition, and diversionary feeding to decrease the likelihood of depredation incidents…” Defenders of Wildlife works with FWS regularly on human-wildlife conflict, and has a long history of developing and promoting innovative coexistence programs with ranchers, such as in Arizona.

Understanding the threats to imperiled species is fundamental to conserving them, which is why the threats project is so important. Knowing the threats to el lobo is invaluable to me and being able to tie my personal interest into my work was a powerful experience. As I wrap up my internship with Defenders of Wildlife, I look forward to seeing my beloved and much-missed Valentina at home while thinking about the many opportunities we have to conserve her kind and the many other imperiled species that may be less well-known.

- Cyrus