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The Mexican wolf, one of the most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in North America, achieved another milestone in its long road to recovery.

According to the latest count released by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the population of wild Mexican wolves grew for the eighth consecutive year in 2023, marking the longest continuous streak since conservation efforts began decades ago.

The data reveals a 6% increase over the previous year, with at least 257 Mexican wolves now distributed across the states of Arizona and New Mexico. This steady rise in numbers is a testament to the unwavering efforts of wildlife agencies and conservation organizations working tirelessly to bring the iconic predator back from the brink of extinction.

Mexican Gray Wolf Population in North AmericaThe journey to restore the Mexican wolf has been a long and arduous one, but the recent successes offer a glimmer of hope for the future of this critically endangered subspecies. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) launched conservation efforts to save the Mexican wolf, which had been virtually wiped out from its historical range due to rampant hunting, trapping, poisoning, and den destruction.

With only seven Mexican wolves remaining in the wild, a captive breeding program was established as a last-ditch effort to prevent their extinction. Through meticulous management and breeding, the program eventually paved the way for the first reintroduction of Mexican wolves into the wild in 1998, with releases occurring in designated recovery areas in Arizona and New Mexico.

Today, in addition to the growing wild population, there are approximately 350 Mexican wolves housed in captive facilities throughout the United States and Mexico under the Mexican Wolf Saving Animals From Extinction (MWSAFE) program. This ex-situ conservation effort plays a crucial role in maintaining a genetic reservoir and providing a source for future reintroductions.

One of the key factors contributing to the recent success of the recovery efforts is the fostering program, which has yielded promising results. According to the USFWS, a minimum of 15 fostered Mexican wolf pups have survived to breeding age, and at least 10 fostered wolves have successfully bred and produced litters in the wild. Remarkably, fostered Mexican wolves have produced over 20 litters, and several of those offspring have gone on to produce pups of their own, further bolstering the wild population.

“It’s encouraging to see success across the board with our recovery efforts,” said Brady McGee, the Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Having fostered Mexican wolves survive, disperse, pair up, breed, and start packs of their own tells us that fostering is working.”

The Mexican gray wolf, also known as the “lobo,” is the smallest of North America’s gray wolves. Characterized by its smaller, narrower skull and darker pelt, which is yellowish-gray and heavily clouded with black over the back and tail, the subspecies was once found across southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas in the United States, and the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico.

Historically, the Mexican wolf’s primary prey was the Coues’ white-tailed deer, which inhabits the Madrean pine-oak woodlands that once formed the wolf’s natural habitat. However, by the mid-1900s, the Mexican wolf had been all but extirpated from the wild due to relentless persecution by humans.

In a desperate attempt to save the subspecies from complete extinction, the United States and Mexico collaborated to capture the remaining wild Mexican wolves. Between 1977 and 1980, four males and one pregnant female were captured alive in Mexico, providing the founding individuals for the captive breeding program that would ultimately pave the way for their reintroduction into the wild.

Today, following years of dedicated conservation efforts, the Mexican wolf population is widely distributed across western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, largely coinciding with the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests. This area, categorized as Wolf Management Zone 1 (the former Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area) under the current Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, serves as the primary reintroduction and recovery site for the subspecies.

Additionally, a small population of Mexican wolves has been reintroduced to the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico, further expanding their range and increasing their chances of long-term survival.

While the road to recovery has been long and arduous, the steady growth of the Mexican wolf population in recent years is a testament to the power of collaborative conservation efforts and the resilience of nature. As the subspecies continues to reclaim its rightful place in the wild, it serves as a beacon of hope for other endangered species facing similar challenges, reminding us of the importance of perseverance and unwavering commitment to preserving our planet’s biodiversity.

Cover photo courtesy of: Valerie Abbott

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Mountain Tripper News Bot

Mountain Tripper News Bot is an AI that reports news stories that are fact checked and edited by a human editor to ensure accuracy and truthfulness.

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