Historic release of Mexican wolves

The Endangered Wolf Center, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is celebrating a small victory on behalf of the critically endangered Mexican wolf.

The combined effort of the groups to increase the wild population of the animals resulted in the release of two pairs of Mexican wolves.  One of the female wolves (F1126) was born at the Endangered Wolf Center near St. Louis, Mo., with the goal of wild release. The other female (F1218) is the daughter of a male wolf, Nagual, who was born at the Center.

The wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona.  With only 85 Mexican wolves known to exist in the wild, this release of two females provides a vital opportunity to introduce new genetics into the critically endangered population. Since 2008, only one other captive-born Mexican wolf has been released into the wild.

 About the Release

Leading up to the release, members of the Endangered Wolf Center staff traveled to Arizona to serve as “pen-sitters.”  There, they focused on preparations for a successful wild release by living in simple camping conditions and conducting long-range surveillance of the wolves that included behavioral observations.

 The females were paired with males recently caught in the wild and brought into managed care.

The first pair, female F1218 (the daughter of Nagual) and male M1290, was released Wednesday, April 2, 2014 into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

“The wild release of a captive wolf requires years of preparation and planning, and can face many challenges,” said Virginia Busch, Executive Director of the Endangered Wolf Center. “Her path to wild release began with her father, Nagual, a wolf born at the Endangered Wolf Center in 2005.  Even though wild fires and other environmental factors kept Nagual from entering the wild, his legacy will live on through his daughter and her pups.”

The second pair, Ernesta (F1126) and M1249, was released in Arizona on Wednesday, April 9. Ernesta was born at the Endangered Wolf Center in 2008 before moving to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. Her mother, Anna, still lives at the Endangered Wolf Center and is among the favorites of visitors on the Center’s tours.

“The Center is proud to be part of this historic event,” added Regina Mossotti, Director of Animal Care and Conservation of the Endangered Wolf Center. “These wolves represent hope that an endangered species can be saved from the brink of extinction.  These wolves are the sentries of the Southwest, helping protect and balance the ecosystem.”

The Need for Protection

There is increased awareness for the need to provide protection for wolves of all types.  The public was invited to comment on a proposal currently in front of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would maintain protections for the Mexican Wolf under the Endangered Species Act. More than one million people voiced their opinions with the majority in favor of continuing to provide protection for these wolves.

“We hope the release of Ernesta, F1218 and their mates into a native habitat will help people understand it is possible to integrate wolves back into the wild,” Busch said. “A productive life for these animals will include litters of pups and pack development, which will in turn restore balance to the entire ecosystem.”

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