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Mexican Wolf Spotted in the Wild for the First Time in 30 Years

December 02, 2014

Story at-a-glance

  • For the first time in 30 years, a litter of Mexican wolves has been born in the wild in Mexico, thanks to conservation efforts that include raising breeding pairs in captivity and releasing them into the wild.
  • Conservation experts visited a reintroduction region in the mountains of western Mexico this past June and confirmed the existence of five healthy wolf pups.
  • The Mexican wolf was nearly extinct in the U.S. southwest as well, but by the end of 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had counted at least 83 individuals in Arizona and New Mexico.

By Dr. Becker

This past July, for the first time in three decades, a litter of wolf pups was born in the wild in Mexico, according to Mexico's National Commission for Natural Protected Areas.

"This first litter represents an important step in the recovery program, because these will be individuals that have never had contact with human beings, as wolves bred in captivity inevitably do," the commission said in a statement.

Canis lupus baileyi, the Mexican wolf also called the lobo, has been extinct in the wild for 30 years. But in recent years, conservation efforts have arranged for breeding pairs to be raised in captivity and then released into the mountains of western Mexico.

Mexican authorities were closely watching one wolf pair released in December 2013 in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains. They suspected the female might be pregnant. The signal from the wolf’s satellite collar was undetectable for a few days during the spring, suggesting to conservation experts that she might be inside a den having pups. In May, a picture was taken of the female who appeared to have swollen mammary glands indicative of nursing pups.

Conservationists visited the area in June and confirmed the presence of five healthy wolf pups.

The Mexican Wolf Was Also Almost Extinct in the U.S.

The lobo was also nearly extinct in the U.S. southwest by the 1970s, wiped out by the same threats that eliminated it in Mexico: hunting, trapping, and poisoning.

The last five surviving individuals in the U.S. were captured between 1977 and 1980, and bred in captivity. The first wolves were re-introduced into the wild starting in 1998, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico.

By the end of 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had counted at least 83 Mexican wolves resulting from the reintroduction in those two states. Officials were able to identify five breeding pairs and 17 newborn pups among the known packs in the region.

The Mexican wolf is a smaller subspecies of Canis lupus, the gray wolf, which was also almost extinct at one time in the U.S. Today, thanks to conservation efforts, there are over 5,000 individuals in the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountain regions.

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