Six furry little bundles are aiding the conservation of the endangered Mexican gray wolf. Last month, a female Mexican gray emerged from a short disappearance trailing six pups—a cause for celebration, considering that Mexican grays numbered only 75 in the wild at the start of this year.
Once populous in New Mexico, Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, they’re a subspecies of the gray wolf that is all but extinct in the wild, following a history of poisoning and shooting at the hands of humans protecting their livestock. Now, they’re one of the rarest wolves on the continent—and one of the most endangered wolf species in the world.
The pups were born in Sonora, a northern Mexican state, inside a nature reserve. The state’s Environmental Commission director Oscar Tellez, told Efe, “The birth of these pups is a big accomplishment for the conservation of an extinct species in its natural habitat.”
Officials believe that the pups were actually born in May, but no one saw them until June, when the mother transferred them to another den, La Prensa reports. Originally, there were nine, but three died due to natural causes, Tellez said.
The news comes in the wake of a move earlier in June to take the gray wolf off the endangered species list. This provoked an outcry from a diversity of conservation organizations, which called the move premature, saying the gray wolf had not fully recovered yet.
Officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service made it clear however that Mexican grays would remain protected despite the planned removal of gray wolves. They’re currently described as a nonessential experimental population, a designation reserved for animals that have been reintroduced into the wild from captivity, but which aren’t deemed to be essential to the continued existence of the species overall.
This is because the majority of Mexican grays exist in captive-breeding programs like the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, across North America and Mexico. These buoy the population, and provide conservationists with subjects to reintroduce into the wild. So far those introductions have elicited that core population of 75 in the wild—now boosted by the recent births.
Yet, Mexican grays “have difficulty breeding in captivity,” says Tellez. The population growth in the wild has also been slow. Part of that problem is a human one, since wild Mexican grays are occasionally illegally shot. Furthermore, there are concerns over their genetic diversity—a challenge, since all captive-bred and reintroduced wolves today are the offspring of just five Mexican grays that were caught in 1973, when officials realized that the population was on the brink, Scientific American writes.
Indeed, in the case of the new pups, La Prensa says they are “the offspring of ‘Wuera,’ who was brought to the park in 2008 from a zoo in the central state of Guanajuato, and ‘Federiko,’ who arrived at the reserve in 2012 from a state park in New Mexico.” The pups will no doubt be watched closely, since they are so valuable to the population-boosting effort.
For now, conservationists remain concerned about the fate of the gray wolf, of which there are just over 6000 in the wild—a number not yet at its peak, which suggests the wolves have not yet fully recovered, conservation groups argue. Public comments on the creature’s removal from the endangered species list are open until September 11, and can be made here.
At this link you can watch a video that records the birth of another six Mexican gray wolf pups born into a captive-breeding program at the Endangered Wolf Center in 2011.
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A look at the challenges facing gray wolves across the country, by Ted Williams
Examining the wolves’ place in the park, by Jeff Hull
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