Mexican Gray Wolf Pup Born in New York Released to the Wild
On May 3, 2022, Mexican gray wolf Trumpet gave birth to three pups at the Wolf Conservation Center (South Salem, NY), each no larger than one pound in size. Although all similar in appearance and genetic lineage, one lucky pup was destined for a much different home – the wilds of New Mexico.
The WCC is one of more than 50 institutions in the U.S. and Mexico participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan – a bi-national initiative whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of Mexican wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research. Beyond being cute, the pups represent the WCC’s active participation in an effort to save their species from extinction.
On May 12, the largest of the litter, a female pup nicknamed Crumbo, was flown to New Mexico and successfully placed in the den of the Iron Creek wild wolf pack, where the breeding female had recently given birth to her own litter. Cross-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter to be raised by surrogate parents.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS)’s Initial Release and Translocation Proposal for 2022, Mexican gray wolves within the wild population are as related to one another as full siblings with a mean kinship (MK) of 0.2377. This cross-foster recovery technique provides the opportunity to augment the population’s genetics.
In addition to Crumbo, ten other pups were cross-fostered from captive facilities across the U.S. to wild families:
- Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois: one litter provided three pups fostered into the Whitewater Canyon Pack in New Mexico;
- El Paso Zoo in El Paso, Texas: one litter provided two pups fostered into the Dark Canyon Pack in New Mexico and one pup fostered into the Iron Creek Pack in New Mexico;
- Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale AZ: one litter provided two pups fostered into the Rocky Prairie Pack in Arizona;
- Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, in Socorro, New Mexico: one litter provided two pups fostered into the Buzzard Peak Pack in New Mexico.
USFWS intends to continue relying on the cross-foster method alone to improve genetic diversity and reduce extinction risks for wild Mexican gray wolves. The agency aims to ensure that 22 cross-fostered pups survive through their second year of life. However, unless those cross-fostered wolves successfully reproduce, those animals have zero impact on the wild population’s genetic health.
Since USFWS’s cross-fostering initiative began in 2014, four cross-fostered wolves have reproduced in the wild, and others showed signs of denning behavior this spring. To build on this success, USFWS could return to other proven methods to stave off genetic imperilment. Resuming the release of family groups (well-bonded male-female pairs with pups) from captivity offers a more immediate solution to the population’s pressing genetic crisis.
“We’re honored to be a part of this important recovery mission,” stated WCC Curator Rebecca Bose. “The collaboration among all who had a hand in delivering Crumbo to her wild family is a true testament to the dedication of everyone involved.” In addition to USFWS, other collaborating agencies in the recovery program include Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico State Lands Office, U.S. Forest Service, and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, as well as private organizations.
For two decades, the WCC has been a critical partner in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, and to date, three adult Mexican gray wolves from the center have been released in the wild. Crumbo is the second Mexican gray wolf pup to leave the WCC to join a wild family.
“Unbeknownst to all wild lobos in Mexico and the U.S., a lot of people are rooting them on and working hard to advance their recovery,” stated Maggie Howell, WCC executive director. “Although Crumbo might not understand it, she brings hope for a healthier, more peaceful, and wilder world.”
Crumbo was named in honor of Kim Crumbo, a huge proponent of rewilding, compassionate conservation, and protecting diversity of life. Over the course of two decades, Kim Crumbo worked as a National Park Service river ranger, resource management specialist and wilderness coordinator in Grand Canyon National Park, as well as a park ranger. He retired from the park service in 1999 and spent years advocating for Mexican gray wolf recovery. He tragically disappeared while on a camping trip in Yellowstone National Park in 2021.
As a living, breathing part of the wild southwest, Crumbo can carry Kim’s legacy forward. Beyond her potential to further the recovery of her imperiled species, Crumbo’s paws on the ground can help people care deeply about places they will never visit and wildlife they will never see. Crumbo is helping to rewild our world. Like Kim, she can help rewild our hearts and minds too.
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of 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 seven remaining rescued from extinction in captivity. In 1998, the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising 196 individuals – an increase from 186 counted at the end of 2020.