AZGFD: Record number of Mexican wolf pups fostered into the wild

Jun 8, 2021, 4:15 AM
Mexican wolf (Courtesy photo/Arizona Game and Fish Department)...
Mexican wolf (Courtesy photo/Arizona Game and Fish Department)
(Courtesy photo/Arizona Game and Fish Department)

PHOENIX — A record number of captive-born Mexican wolves have been placed in wild dens to be raised in the wild by surrogate parents as part of an effort to boost the genetic diversity of the endangered subspecies, the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced.

The cross-fostering method involves placing genetically diverse pups that are 14 days or younger from a captive breeding population into wild dens with similarly aged pups to be raised in the wild,  according to a press release.

Over the past two months, nine pups were fostered into three different packs in eastern Arizona and 13 were fostered into five packs in western New Mexico.

“Fostering is an outstanding example of a working private-public recovery program,” Jim deVos, AZGFD Mexican wolf coordinator, said in a press release.

“Wolf recovery has to recognize the importance of meeting genetic criteria, which requires many private organizations maintaining captive wolves for release into the wild. Without this important partnership, genetic recovery would be essentially impossible.

“Importantly, we are now seeing Mexican wolves that have been fostered producing litters themselves supporting the use of fostering as an effective conservation tool.”

Wolves fostered as part of the program have the same survival rate as wild-born pups in their first year, which is about 50%, according to the release.

The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team since the start of the program six years ago has documented a minimum of 12 cross-fostered wolves currently alive and surviving in the wild, with seven of those wolves reaching the breeding age of two years old. Four have subsequently produced pups in the wild, according to the release.

Considering pups are too young to be marked when fostered, only those that are recaptured can be confirmed as alive. This leads the team to believe it is likely other fostered pups are alive and contributing to improving the genetic diversity of the wild population, according to the release.

The packs are monitored using GPS and radio telemetry signals from collars on older wolves within the pack.

Having previously disappeared completely from New Mexico and Arizona, a minimum of 186 wild Mexican wolves were counted as part of the 2020 end-of-year census in the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area. The census counted 72 wolves in Arizona and 114 in New Mexico. It marks a 14% increase in population from the end of 2019.

The Mexican wolf population has nearly doubled in size over the past five years, according to the release.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Mexican wolf as an endangered species in 1976.

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AZGFD: Record number of Mexican wolf pups fostered into the wild