Wild Mexican Gray Wolf Population Grows Slightly, Intensive Recovery Efforts Still Needed
In its annual survey released today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports that 196 wild Mexican gray wolves were counted in the U.S. in 2021 – a 5% increase since last year and a new high since the endangered wolf was returned to the wild 24 years ago.
Illegal mortality remains one of the biggest threats to Mexican wolf recovery. The wild population grew by an estimated 5% – a smaller-than-anticipated growth rate due to low pup survival and high overall mortality rate. USFWS confirms 25 Mexican gray wolves were found dead in 2021. Recent research suggests that these killings have impacts far beyond the individual wolves; Mexican wolves are more likely to be cryptically poached when the federal government is more liberal with their kill policies for Mexican wolves.
The USFWS report confirms the following details about the current wild population in the U.S.:
According to the report:
- A minimum of 45 packs were documented at the end of 2021: 28 in New Mexico and 17 in Arizona. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves that maintain an established territory.
- A minimum of 144 pups were born in 2021, with at least 56 surviving until the end of the year (a 38 percent survival rate). The average survival of Mexican wolf pups in their first year is around 50 percent.
- The Interagency Field Team (IFT) placed a record 22 captive-born pups into seven wild dens (a process called “cross fostering”) to boost the genetic diversity in the wild population. These cross-fostered pups are included in the minimum of 144 pups recorded for the year.
- The IFT recorded a minimum of 25 breeding pairs (13 in New Mexico, 12 in Arizona) with pups in 2021.
Mexican gray wolves are the most genetically distinct lineage of gray wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act.