SEVILLETA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.M. -- Not long after daybreak on a frigid morning three days before Christmas, Susan Dicks and about 20 volunteers form a wide circle around a young Mexican gray wolf confined to a soccer field-sized pen at the Mexican wolf holding facility here.
"Let's close in a little more on the left," says Dicks, a Fish and Wildlife Service veterinarian whose job is to keep the 11 wolves held here disease-free. "Let's tighten the circle just a little."
A half-hour later, the circle has become a tight human trap, and the wolf, called "M1133," crawls under a juniper tree near his doghouse-like den box near the fence line. Carefully reaching beneath the branches, a volunteer gently pins him with a "Y-stick." Soon, subdued by a blue cloth muzzle that covers both eyes and mouth, the young male is on the ground, heart pumping at 120 beats per minute, as Dicks takes his vitals and inserts the first of several needles carrying vaccines against distemper, parvo and rabies. Minutes later, the muzzle is removed and M1133 bolts to the far side of the three-quarter-acre pen, looking back over his shoulder with a mixture of puzzlement and fear.
With their high fences, den boxes and plastic water tubs, the half-dozen pens of this FWS holding facility are a far cry from the remote, rugged wildlands of the recovery zone that M1133 and other Mexican wolves are supposed to inhabit about 300 miles southwest of here on the New Mexico-Arizona border. But this facility has become an essential, if controversial, part of FWS's 12-year-old Mexican wolf reintroduction program, one of the most troubled -- and by many estimates, unsuccessful -- endangered species programs in the country.