Sometimes preserving and endangered species requires unusual steps. This week the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) will be among the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP) participants taking extraordinary measures to aid the recovery of the critically endangered Mexican wolf (a.k.a. lobo).
In order to maintain genetic diversity within the Mexican wolf population, the MWSSP management group determines which captive lobos will be permitted to breed by using software developed for the population management of endangered species. Wolf unions are chosen based on the genetic “value” of the individuals and the benefits their offspring would potentially contribute to the diversity of their rare species. Wolf couples with low inbreeding coefficients produce offspring that will best enhance the wild lobo gene pool. Lobo genetics are a matter of concern for the MWSSP because the founding population of all lobos here on Earth today can be counted on two hands (not including your thumbs!)
Although Mexican Wolves M740 and F749 were likely unaware, in 2012 scientists all over North America are crossing their fingers that the a vital pair would prove fruitful. They had the lowest inbreeding coefficient in the MWSSP. So you can imagine the excitement when during an early morning in May, F749 quietly had eight pups under a thicket. All five boys and three girls appeared to be in good health so WCC staff followed protocol and stayed out of the lobos’ way to allow the new parents do their job. Sadly, all 8 pups died within a month’s time. MWSSP procedure prevented WCC staff from intervening and with our vast wild enclosures, it was impossible to determine what was ailing the newborn lobos. While this loss was devastating on many levels, it did prompt the implementation of new MWSSP protocols for selective emergency intervention.
For the 2012-2013 wolf breeding season, F749 was chosen to breed with a former companion, Mexican wolf M804. The pair is an excellent match genetically, and supporters who have been spying on the two via our WildEarth.TV Webcams can attest that the couple appears to find comfort in each other’s company. So here we are a year later, and F749 appears to be pregnant again. However, due to the mother’s poor record of keeping her vulnerable and valuable pups alive (F749 has lost several litters in her 11 years), we will be pulling the pups no later than 18 hours after their birth to be hand reared and eventually placed with captive lobo foster parents. Ideally we would hand raise the pups at the WCC, but unfortunately we do not currently house a pair of lobos that have successfully raised a litter of their own. So, after we pull the pups, we’ll transport them to the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville, IN where they will be hand raised and fostered with a Mexican wolf couple with a stellar record of raising pups successfully.
In coming days we hope to announce the birth of a robust litter from F749, but it will be bitter sweet knowing that she will not be a part of their development. It takes tough and sometimes heart breaking decisions to preserve a species. We can only hope that F749 and M804 realize on some level that they are a part of something much larger than their pack, the recovery of their imperiled species.