Most wolves born in captivity spend their lives there, but one lucky Mexican gray wolf pup born at the Wolf Conservation Center on April 26, 2019 was destined for the wild!
In May 2019, the pup (aptly nicknamed “Hope” for the hope she brings to Mexican wolf recovery) was flown to Arizona and successfully placed in the den of the wild Saffel pack through a “cross-foster.” Cross-fostering is a coordinated effort between the Mexican gray wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT) and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP) and is a technique employed to enhance the genetic health of the wild gene pool of Mexican wolves. Captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves and aid in the recovery of their endangered species.
Hope (also known as f1958) received a microchip before her release to the wild but while the chip will serve to identify her if she's captured by the IFT in the future, it does not transmit her location.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS)’s Initial Release and Translocation Proposal for 2021, Mexican gray wolves within the wild population are as related to one another as full siblings. This cross-foster recovery technique provides the opportunity to augment the population’s genetics with the hope the pups will eventually spread their genes to the greater population.
When Hope was cross fostered into the Saffel Pack in May 2019, the family consisted of parents AF1567 (Lupin), AM1441 (Kiko), daughter f1833 (Yuma), and pups born in 2019. In an odd twist of fate, Hope's adoptive mother was her biological aunt; Hope's biological father, Lighthawk (M1564), was born in the wild but removed for preying on livestock. He now safely resides at the WCC and while he unfortunately can never return to the wild, it's only fitting that his daughter can now live the life that was stolen from him.
Sadly, tragedy struck the Saffel Pack in November 2019 when AM1441 was injured in a USFWS trap and temporarily removed from the wild for amputation surgery. He was released back to the wild the next month but was unable to rejoin his family; he was ultimately killed on behalf of the livestock industry in June 2020.
Hope's adoptive older sister, f1833, was found dead in Arizona in January 2020. Hope's adoptive mother, AF1567, was found dead in Arizona in the last quarter of 2020. Because the Saffel Pack no longer has an active breeding pair, it is considered to be disbanded. Hope, who has never been collared by the Mexican Wolf IFT during their annual collaring efforts, could very well be living a life undetected in the beautiful wilds of the Southwest. We hope she is.
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. (2020), there is a single wild population comprising only 163 individuals.
The WCC has been a critical partner in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program for nearly two decades. The goal of the Recovery Plan is to restore Mexican gray wolves to a portion of their ancestral range in the southwest United States and Mexico. To date, three adult Mexican gray wolves from the center have been released in the wild. Participating in a cross-foster, however, is a historic first for the center.