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SSP Update: Busy Breeding Season Ahead!

It’s shaping up to be one of our busiest seasons since the WCC first started participating in Species Survival Plans for critically endangered red wolves and Mexican gray wolves a decade ago. While the WCC has been a vocal and visible advocate in trying to secure legal protections for these rare species, we have also naturally been quite active in physically safeguarding the representatives of these rare species that have been entrusted to our care. This work is literally “behind the scenes” as visitors rarely get to see the wolves because they are generally kept off-exhibit to maintain their healthy aversion to humans.

This winter promises to be an exciting one as it features not only our normal husbandry, but also breeding pairs, releases, collection of genetic material, and even an unprecedented medical procedure.

Two pairs of Mexican gray wolves will be given the chance to breed this season:  M807 and our fall arrival from the Utica Zoo, F986, and, for the second consecutive year, M804 and F749. If the latter pair is successful, the pups will be removed and initially hand-reared, a practice that is followed when there are serious concerns about a specific female’s ability to successfully raise the pups. The couple had two genetically valuable pups last breeding season, but they were removed to another facility because F749 had previously lost almost all of her pups. While we dislike having to remove the pups, we are happy to report that this time there is a chance that any pups born to the pair will be hand-raised at the WCC. Naturally the breeding pair will remain off-exhibit, but our webcams will be trained on their enclosure, so lobo-lovers will get a chance to monitor these lobo lovers from home and share their observations with us.

Two pairs of red wolves will also be given the chance to prove fruitful!  Red wolf F1397 has been given the opportunity to breed every year since her arrival in 2009 and welcomed  two sons, M1803 and M1804, in 2010.  Last year, however, she spent the season alone after losing her companion and mate, M1483.  Earlier this month, a new fellow joined the WCC family, red wolf M1565.  He is currently living adjacent to F1397, with only a fence between them.  We  introduce new wolves to each other gradually allowing them to acclimate to their new surroundings. In a few weeks, you can join us in watching the couple’s potential romance bloom via LIVE webcam.  Red wolf F1291 was the WCC’s very first red wolf, she has been a part of the WCC family since 2004 when she arrived as a mere yearling.  Last year she was introduced to red wolf M1394, littermate of red wolf F1397.  They pair is well bonded, but no pups thus far.  F1291 is the most genetically valuable wolf in the red wolf SSP program so we hope that this will be her year.

As our ultimate goal is to increase the number of wolves in the wild,  we are extremely happy to have recently sent M1141 to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) facility in New Mexico to be paired with a mate and released into the wild in Sonora, Mexico.  M1141 was part of the first litter of SSP pups born at the WCC five years ago, so his release into the wild after living here off-exhibit represents an exciting milestone for us and, more importantly, for him.  USFWS is also considering similarly sending one of M1411’s three female littermates (F1143, F1144, and F1145) to their facility for pairing and release, but this pair would be released into U.S. territory! We’re also happy to report that red wolf M1804 also received the call of the wild!  He was released in the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a remote barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, to be introduced to a potential mate. We’re so thankful to be able to grant these special wolves born right here at our Center in NY, with these wild opportunities.  Good luck, kiddos!

Not every genetically valuable wolf in the SSP program has the chance to successfully breed, so we’ll be collecting semen from all our male lobos during prime breeding season in mid-winter. The genetic material will be stored for potential future use, an important option when trying to maintain diversity with a species that was once extinct in the wild. In what is understandably a medical first, lobo M904 will undergo a reverse vasectomy in order to obtain his semen. He was given the vasectomy years ago in order to allow him to live year-round with his female companion.

Whew.  A busy and exciting season lays ahead!