When their eyes open, they’ll be wild wolves

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for these pups. At just eight days old, with eyes still closed, two Mexican wolf pups born at the Endangered Wolf Center were flown to New Mexico to be fostered into a wild pack. 

Since 2016, the Endangered Wolf Center has been an integral part of the pup fostering program for this species. Each year, wolf biologists research, learn from, and improve this conservation technique. 

What is wolf pup fostering?

Fostering is a conservation strategy that takes wolf pups born in one litter and places them with another litter in the wild with the hope that the wild wolf mother will adopt the new additions as her own – the goal of which is to increase genetic diversity. And it works.

With fewer than 250 Mexican wolves left in the wild, these two pups born at the Endangered Wolf Center represent vital new genetics needed for a critically endangered population and provides a unique opportunity for captive-born pups to be raised by wild parents. 

Learning important survival and hunting skills makes a difference – it’s hard to be wild, even with these skills, and we need to give these ecologically important animals the best chance to survive.


Genetics matter for endangered animals

The two pups sent to the wild from the EWC are genetically valuable, as their father, Nashoba, is the first and only Mexican wolf born from artificial insemination using frozen-thawed semen from a wolf that had no other offspring. Nashoba has now passed on these important genetics to another generation that will grow up in the wild.

Nashoba, born from artificial insemination, was raised at the EWC with mom, Vera, and his foster father, Mack.

Nashoba’s mate, Max, came to the EWC from Wolf Conservation Center. This is their first litter together.


Nationwide collaboration to save a species

Saving a species requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. The EWC’s 2023 pup foster event began with Brookfield Zoo in Chicago fostering six pups into the wilds of New Mexico and Arizona. From there, one wild-born pup was flown to the EWC. Mixing wild-born and captive-born pups into both populations strengthens genetics and provides more match-making opportunities once these pups reach adulthood. Biologists also ensure that after adding captive-born pups to the litter, wild moms have only as many pups as they can care for.

Our Animal Care Team, with help from the Wildlife Rescue Center, cared for the wild-born female pup overnight, and at about 4 am, the pup was placed into the den to be raised with its new sibling and parents, Nashoba and Max.

Simultaneously, two pups were pulled from this den and taken to our on-site Richmond Family Veterinary and Nutrition Center, where they had veterinary exams and were microchipped.

From St. Louis, the pups boarded a donated Lighthawk flight – a one-way ticket to their wild future.

The EWC Animal Care team (Sarah Holaday, Danni Grubb, Tracy Rein, Veronica Seawall, Maggie Vlaytcheva, and Danielle Rosenstein) and Veterinarian Tammy Smith are all smiles after giving the pups a health exam before their journey to the wild.

Wolves bring balance to ecosystems

These conservation efforts aren’t just to benefit wolves –  the Mexican wolf is a keystone species and as such, their native ecosystem relies on them to keep it in balance. By reducing the spread of disease in prey species and keeping herds on the move, wolves create a healthier environment for animals, plants, and humans. 


(Left) EWC’s Animal Keeper Maggie Vlaytcheva and Animal Curator, Veronica Seawall, cared for the pups on their journey.

Mexican wolves help balance our native ecosystems in the southwest, which is crucial in preserving our remaining wild spaces. With fewer than 250 remaining in our wild population, each individual pup fostered takes us one step closer to achieving healthy populations of this endangered species.

Sarah Holaday, Director of Animal Care and Conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center

Is wolf pup fostering successful?

The Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT) conducts research to understand if this program is working. To date in 2023, 99 Mexican pups have been fostered into the wild since 2016, 40 of which have come from the EWC. 

According to their research, the IFT has not detected any difference in survival rates of fostered captive-born pups and wild-born pups in their first year of life, which is exactly what biologists had hoped would be the case. Though fostered pups are too young to be collared for GPS tracking, when adults are surveyed annually, their microchips help biologists identify foster successes.

Nashoba plays with a stick, unaware of the significant impact he is making for his species.

(From left to right) Pup Foster Advisor and Vice President of Animal Care at the Saint Louis Zoo, Regina Mossotti, EWC Animal Keeper Maggie Vlaytcheva, EWC Animal Curator Veronica Seawall, Lighthawk Pilot Mike Schroeder, and EWC Director of Animal Care & Conservation Sarah Holaday

Thank You to Our Foster Partners

Collaborating partners in the foster event included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Rescue Center, Brookfield Zoo, the Association of Zoos and Aquarium Mexican Wolf SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction), Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, USDA Forest Service, USDA Wildlife Services, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

It’s not just organizations that can help save a species. We must all work together to save this critically endangered wolf, and each year individual donations from passionate people help us move forward in our mission to protect and preserve the Mexican wolf. 


You can help endangered wolves

If you would like to become a Wildlife Release Hero, please make a donation here and mention “Wildlife Release Fund” in the comments section.