SOUTH SALEM, New York (May 13 ,2016) – Mother’s Day came early for a critically endangered Mexican gray wolf living at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in New York’s Westchester County. On the morning of May 4th, Mexican gray wolf F1143 gave birth to a single pup – a robust male nicknamed “Trumpet” for his loud squeals. During the pup’s first health check on May 12th, WCC staff and volunteers confirmed the top-notch pup-rearing skills of the first-time parents, their firstborn is healthy and very cute to boot. But beyond being “adorable,” the pocket-size predator represents the Center’s active participation in an effort to save a species on the brink of extinction.
The WCC is one of 54 facilities 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.
Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction, genetic health is the primary consideration governing not only reproductive pairings, but also captive-to-wild release efforts. Although both components are equally critical to Mexican wolf recovery, release events are far less frequent than successful breeding.
“Unfortunately state politics have too often blocked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) release efforts,” explained WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell, “so wolves essential to the genetic health of the wild population remain in captivity. The Service has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered species and releases are a central part of that effort.”
In recent positive steps toward recovery, FWS has forged ahead despite political opposition by ushering captive wolves into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Pup-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves. Mexican wolf F1143’s pup was not eligible for wild-foster because it’s key that the captive litter comprise of a handful of pups and the timing wasn’t right. F1143 gave birth a bit later than her wild counterparts.
“Although we hoped pups from our center would receive the ‘call of the wild’,” said WCC curator Rebecca Bose, “we’re elated that there have been so many foster events this year! Pup-fostering is an incredibly effective tool for augmenting the genetic health of the wild population.”
“Maybe next year some Mexican wolf pups from the WCC will get this amazing opportunity,” Howell continued, “in the meantime, we’re counting on FWS to continue with releases beyond pup season because recovery demands releasing more family groups into the wild too.”
The new wolf parents and pup are not on public exhibit, but thirteen live webcams, available on the WCC website, invite an unlimited number of viewers to enter the private lives of these elusive creatures. Two additional wolf couples – one Mexican gray wolf pair and one red wolf pair – were also designated to breed this year. So the WCC staff and supporters will remain glued to various webcams to behold the rare pup and hopefully witness the arrival of more potential pups in the coming weeks.
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 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. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 97 individuals – a decrease from 110 counted at the end of 2014.