22 Captive Mexican Wolf Pups Facing Extinction Were Just Set Free

  • ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A record 22 captive-born Mexican gray wolf pups have been set free.
  • The pups are set to be raised by surrogate packs in AZ and NM.
  • Officials said that nine pups were fostered into three different packs in eastern Arizona and 13 were placed with five packs in western New Mexico.

Mexican Gray Wolf History

The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest, most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in North America. In the early 1900s, Mexican gray wolves began attacking livestock because there was a reduction in their natural prey resulting in a huge financial loss for farmers. This led to a concerted effort from both the US government and individuals to eradicate these wolves by with whatever means necessary. By 1950, the Mexican gray wolf no longer existed in the wild in the US and fewer than 50 Mexican grey wolves remained in Mexico. The wolf was listed on the US Endangered Species Act in 1976.

22 Freed Mexican Wolf Pups

Jim DeVos, the Mexican wolf coordinator with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said that the pups will be transferred into a fostering system with private organizations that are part of a nationwide captive breeding effort.

The captive-born wolf pups were set free from facilities in New Mexico, Texas and Missouri.

Image shared via: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Without this important partnership, genetic recovery would be essentially impossible,” he said. “Importantly, we are now seeing Mexican wolves that have been fostered producing litters themselves.”

Cross-fostering, simply put, is placing pups less than 14 days old from breeding populations into wild dens with similarly aged pups to be raised as wild wolves. Officials said cross-fostered pups have the same survival rate as wild-born pups in their first year of life (50%).

12 of the wolves fostered are still alive and surviving in the wild. Seven of these wolves have reached breeding age and four have successfully produced pups in the wild.

Cross-fostering wild wolf pups has come under scrutiny by environmentalist groups who question the survival rate stats and said cross-fostering doesn’t go far enough to put the species on track for recovery. The Center for Biological Diversity is thankfully advocating for wildlife managers to release breeding pairs along with their pups as bonded family packs instead of fostering into new packs.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said that captive-born, well-bonded packs released into the wild have a lower mortality and disappearance rate than cross-fostered pups. He also raised concerns about illegal killings, stating that the lifespan of many of the 50 pups placed into wild dens between 2016-2020 is unknown.

“Aside from whatever is ailing cross-fostered pups in the short term, (the Fish and Wildlife Service’s) failure to address illegal killing casts a pall on genetic conservation of released wolves no matter what manner of release is employed,” Robinson said in an email.

The most recent survey of Mexican wolves evaluated the numbers and said that there were at least 186 of the animals spread between New Mexico and Arizona. Over the last five years, the wild population has nearly doubled which is AMAZING!

If you want to find out more about how cross-fostering works, check out the video below:

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