Scientists have been making strides towards environmental protection and species protection for many decades. Many animals have been placed on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list, which started protection, breeding programs, and reintroduction into natural habitat programs. Thanks to efforts like this one, the subspecies of gray wolves called Mexican Wolves, which is a species that had at one point been extinct in the wild since 1976, now has over 200 wolves in the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico.
The Mexican gray wolf, also called El Lobo, remains the most endangered subspecies in the world. Most, if not all, of the Mexican wolf population decline has been due to human interaction. On the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (CWWC) website, they list the reasons for the decline of this animal as: “wolves [having] been trapped, poisoned, and hunted to the brink of extinction.” Since the beginning of storytelling and folktales, wolves have always played the part of the bad guy and are seen as a threat to humans, and many farmers have gone after them in the name of livestock protection. However, wolves are responsible for less than 1% of livestock losses, and like most wildlife, wolves have an innate fear of humans and keep their distance, making wolf attacks on humans extremely rare, occurring only in extreme circumstances. CWWC even says, “You are more likely to be killed by lightning than a wolf.”
The Lobos of the Southwest website discusses the steps scientists took to reintroduce the Mexican wolf back into the wild. They start with how difficult it was to get the breeding program started; they only had one female, who was pregnant at the time they were able to bring her in. She gave birth to four males and only one female; unfortunately, the female died four days later. They soon went on to say that things started to look up when another facility, the Endangered Wolf Center, saw the same female wolf “give birth to one male and three female pups, all of which survived and reproduced in captivity.”
With continued effort, they were able to establish a breeding program thanks to three litters that produced a total of 15 pups. The scientists named this line of Mexican wolves the “McBride” lineage for the trapper who helped bring in the wolves who birthed the litters.
At the time of these litters, there were two other breeding lines being established, “one in the U.S. called the ‘Ghost Ranch’ line and one in Mexico called the “Aragón’ line. Once these lines were confirmed to be Mexican Grey wolves, they were included in the breeding program. Thanks to the efforts of the program, all of the wolves, in captivity and in the wild, can be traced back to the seven “Mexican grey wolves—four males and three females—that survived the U.S. government’s extermination program.
The Lobos of the Southwest have taken many steps to ensure that their captive wolves have as little human contact as possible and that the packs have as wild an enclosure as possible to aid in the reintroduction process. They pride themselves on their ability to successfully transition wolves back into their homeland “—wolves that hunt appropriate prey, avoid people, and raise their young in family packs the way that they were raised while still in their temporary home.”
They discuss how they ensure these wolves stay as wild as possible; they make sure that these wolves keep a healthy, instinctive wariness of humans. When they clean the enclosure, they work in a circle rotation; the wolves “move ahead [of the staff], staying as far away from them as the acreage will allow.”
The wild instincts in these wolves show themselves when it comes time for the wolves’ monthly checkups. The wolves send up an alarm howl when they hear—from several miles away -- the veterinarian van at the gates. They howl again as the staff enters the capture equipment shed.
The efforts of the Lobos of the Southwest breeding program have really paid off. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website lists the achievements Mexican Grey wolves have made as of 2022: “A minimum of 59 packs: 40 in New Mexico and 19 in Arizona,” “a minimum of 121 pups were born in 2022 [with a 67 percent survival rate],” “a minimum of 31 breeding pairs (20 in New Mexico, 11 in Arizona),” and the documented “109 collared wolves in the wild at the end of the year, which is 45 percent of the wild population.”
The Chief of Wildlife, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Stewart Liley, credits the continued cooperation and support from the state wildlife agencies of New Mexico and Arizona for the continued success and recovery of these animals, stating that their service is “essential for recovery of the Mexican wolf.”
Thanks to the efforts of all the state and wildlife faculties and wolf secretaries who have been working together to ensure these beautiful wolves don’t go extinct, we have seen a species that was once extinct in the wild rebuild and be reintroduced with record numbers since 1976.
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