Mexican wolf facts
The Mexican wolf, also known as “El Lobo,” is the smallest subspecies of the gray wolf and the most endangered wolf in the world. Found only in North America, its historical range was the Southwest, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico. The Mexican wolf preferred ponderosa pine-covered mountains, piñon-juniper forests, oak woodlands, and adjacent grasslands above 4,000 feet in elevation.
Mexican wolves weigh 60 to 90 pounds. Pack size is generally smaller than that of their northern relatives – a direct reflection of their preference for smaller prey. They will hunt elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, pronghorn, javelina, rabbits, and other small animals. Litters average five to seven pups and are born in late April to early May. The breeding, or “alpha,” pair rear the pups with the assistance of the entire pack.
Rounding up the last few survivors
The Mexican wolf suffered from the arrival of the livestock industry in the Southwest during the late 1800s. Rifles, traps and poisons virtually eliminated the species. In 1976, the Mexican wolf was placed on the Endangered Species List, making the recovery of the species a federal concern.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired Roy T. McBride to capture the remaining wolves. He caught five wolves – four males and one female – between 1977 and 1980 in Durango and Chihuahua, Mexico. These animals made up the “McBride” lineage. In 1995, two more lineages were determined to be genetically true Mexican gray wolves, the “Ghost Ranch” and “Aragon” lineages.
The McBride lineage formed the early nucleus of a captive breeding program designed to increase the Mexican wolf’s numbers. The lone surviving female, Nina, was pregnant when captured and gave birth at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. Unfortunately, none of the female pups survived.
After unsuccessful attempts to breed Nina with two other mates in 1979 and 1980, she was shipped from Arizona-Sonora to the Endangered Wolf Center. It was hoped that the large, secluded habitat at the Center would be more conducive to breeding. Time was running out. She mated with one of the last wild-caught males. In 1981, she bore the first Mexican wolf pups conceived in captivity. Their descendants live at the Endangered Wolf Center today, raising litters of their own.
Recovering a species
The Endangered Wolf Center has been the birthplace of approximately 40 percent of the Mexican wolves born in captivity. Dave Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator of the USFWS, called the Endangered Wolf Center “the cornerstone of the Mexican gray wolf program.” Without the availability of this unique facility, this species may have become extinct.
We continue to work in partnership with the USFWS to return the Mexican wolf to its former range. In late March 1998, 11 Mexican wolves from three independent packs were released into the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona, part of the 7,000-square-mile Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which also includes the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.
All 11 of the released wolves of the Campbell Blue and Hawk’s Nest packs were led by Endangered Wolf Center males who had fathered pups at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Albuquerque, N.M.
Hope returns to the wild
In the summer of 1998, the first Mexican wolf puppy to be born in the wild in the United States in over 50 years was spotted with its parents, the leaders of the Campbell Blue pack. Its father was born here at the Endangered Wolf Center.
The Endangered Wolf Center continued its legacy in the summer of 2006 when Laredo, born at the Center to Prietito and Anna, was released with his mate and their pups into the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Area. The return of wolves in the wild was finally looking promising.
The Mexican wolves in our care
The Mexican wolf pack here currently includes five wild-born wolves: Madre, alpha female of the Saddle Pack and her son, Bobby J; male #1019, sole surviving member of his wild pack; Lazarus, a male whose litter was abandoned in the wild; and Rocky, who was very ill when USFWS personnel discovered him in the den. Rocky has nutritional cataracts and is nearly blind. When he was younger, he dug a very large, natural den in the hillside of his enclosure here indicating he has not lost his natural instincts.
Anna, the only surviving offspring of her genetically valuable father, went on to give birth to 41 pups in four litters here, contributing greatly to the increase in Mexican wolves in captivity and getting her father’s genes into the population. Anna’s daughter, Abby, was paired with a male named Perkins (also born at the Center as a result of artificial insemination.) Together they raised two litters of pups that trace their heritage all the way back to Nina’s first litter conceived and born in captivity.
Perkins was later paired with Madre to help raise future litters. On May 20, 2013, Madre and Perkins became the parents of Rogue, a female. Perkins and his daughter Newtown traveled from the Endangered Wolf Center in winter 2014 to Mexico, where they are now paired with mates. Also in the winter of 2014, Abby and three of her daughters traveled to Zoologico de Guadalajara to help further Mexico’s conservation education efforts. Largo, a male from the Endangered Wolf Center, was released into the wild in Mexico in the spring of 2014.
Our pack here consists of other charismatic individuals. Rogue is now paired with Amigo, and Carolita and Bobby J are together. Our older Mexican wolves pairs are Rocky & Cedar and Madre & Rio. Then we have two other families of Mexican wolves. The first consists of Lazarus and Sibi, their three yearlings (Francis, Isabella, and Rachel), and three pups, and the second is Mack and Vera and their two pups.
Working to secure their future
The Endangered Wolf Center participates in reproductive research such as semen collection, artificial insemination and egg vitrification, which could be very promising for the future of the Mexican wolf population. USFWS looks to the Center when needing to place wild-born animals from the recovery area that must be brought into captivity due to depredations.
The large natural enclosures help these animals to be less stressed in captivity, and help them maintain wild behaviors. Although we sometimes wish we could interact with these animals or let visitors do the same, the more their instinctive natural shyness around humans is preserved, the safer they’ll be if they are able to be released into the wild.
The Endangered Wolf Center continues to play a leading role in the recovery of the Mexican wolf. May the howl of the wolf continue to be heard in the Southwest.
Adopt a Mexican wolf pack
Visit our Adopt page to learn how you can adopt a Mexican gray wolf pack or one of the individual wolves in our care, and help contribute to the survival of this magnificent species.