Zoo-Born Wolves Were Successfully Integrated Into Wild Packs To Help Diversify The Gene Pool

Animals are often mistreated by the humans that share their part of the planet. In North America, one of the most persecuted species is the Mexican wolf. They managed to get a little help this spring when 120 wolf pups born in captivity were sent out into the wild to integrate with wild packs in the southwestern US.

Zoos and wolf centers in Missouri, New Mexico, Kansas, California, Arizona take part in captive breeding programs. They were able to provide 20 pups from a diverse gene pool of seven different litters. They were then integrated into seven wild packs in New Mexico and Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is working along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to manage this program.

The method that was used to reintroduce the pups into the wild is known as cross-fostering. It has been successful in a number of species, and it requires the pups to be put with a wild den of wolves that also have pups of similar age when they are about 14 days old. According to some studies, cross-fostered wolves are able to survive just as well as pups that are born in the wild during their first year of life. There are other methods of reintroduction, but cross-fostering has the highest survival rate.

According to an assistant director at the Arizona Department, Jim DeVos: “Managing genetics is one of the biggest challenges facing Mexican wolf conservation, even as constant progress is being made on numeric recovery. ross-fostering young pups works in increasing genetic diversity.”

During the mid 20th century, the species, canis lupus baileyi, had been hunted to extinction in the United States. That mass hunting took place because the wolf was known for killing livestock. Conservation efforts were underway when 109 wolves were reintroduced in 2015 and it was successful, according to a FWS survey.

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The cross-fostering got started in 2014 with only two wolf pups by the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT). 30 pups born in captivity were taken to be fostered in wild dens since that time. Although not all of the wolf pups survived, 10 of those cross-fostered wolves did survive and were successfully recruited into the wild packs.

The animals are not tracked or collared by the IFT, so it may be that other wolves survived the reintegration and were not noticed.

As of 2019, the census showed that there were 163 wild Mexican wolves (76 in Arizona and 87 in New Mexico). A year earlier, the number was only 131.

They owe the growth to the efforts of American conservationists. Before long, the wolf pack numbers will be high enough that the howling will be something remembered by people hiking or camping in the area for many years to come.

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