Five years ago, Wolf Haven International launched a new summer overnight event, which we named A Midsummer’s Night. This unique evening is hosted only a few nights each summer for small groups of people.
by Pamela Maciel, Mexican wolf/bilingual education specialist, Wolf Haven
There are currently 19 Mexican gray wolves living at Wolf Haven International. All are part of a binational Mexican wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program. Of these animals, there is only one pair that sanctuary guests have the opportunity to admire during their guided visit: Mexican wolves M657 and F907 (otherwise known by in-house names Diablo and Gypsy).
All SSP programs were created to save highly endangered species from vanishing permanently by means of building a captive population through selective reproduction planning. Eventually, particular individuals could be potentially released into the wild. Both Diablo and Gypsy were born as part of the Mexican wolf captive breeding program, in 2000 at Detroit Zoological Institute and in 2004 at Río Grande Zoo, respectively. Diablo was transferred to Wolf Haven in 2004 and Gypsy joined him in 2005; ever since they have been sharing an enclosure on the public route.
They are such a cute pair to observe. Even though it isn’t huge, from a physical perspective their age difference has become quite noticeable. Gypsy is an 11-year old that looks like a blooming yearling; her sparkling big eyes and flamboyant coat often make visitors sigh. On the other hand, handsome Diablo’s 15-year old body is showing its natural decline; his movements are at times clumsy, he has lost almost all of his hearing and his sight isn’t that great either. That does not deter him from teaming up with “Gyps” every morning and engaging in enthusiastic displays with all their enclosure neighbors. Beyond the physical differences, their shared self-confident and playful character makes Gypsy and Diablo wonderful life mates as they celebrate ten years of togetherness.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Wolf Tracks magazine.
How to save an endangered species
The Mexican gray wolf, native to Mexico and the U.S., is one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. Their population dwindled to only seven wolves when a “survival plan” was put into place.
The Endangered Species Act, which mandates recovery of endangered species, prevented the complete human eradication of the Mexican wolf. By the early 1970s when the Act went into effect, their population was so low that wildlife officials felt the only option for restoration of this wolf was captive breeding and reintroduction to historic ranges.
Precarious existence of the Mexican wolf
Once common from Mexico to Colorado, today there are approximately 109 Mexican wolves left in the wild, mainly along the Arizona-New Mexico border (with one known wild pack in Mexico). A Mexican wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP) was developed to manage and oversee the captive breeding program and lend support to the reintroduction and recovery effort of the species in the wild. The MWSSP currently houses approximately 270 wolves in 52 facilities in the United States and Mexico.
Because the entire Mexican wolf population was founded by only seven animals, genetic diversity remains one of the biggest challenges to the health of this species. For this reason, careful analysis of each individual Mexican wolf’s lineage and genetic DNA are of critical importance to the program’s success. Participating facilities in the MWSSP program meet annually to assess the current status of the Mexican wolf population and make breeding recommendations for the coming spring. The meetings alternate between the U.S. and Mexico, with varying organizations assuming the role of host agency. Wolf Haven hosted the MWSSP in 2012; this year, it was held in Mexico City at Chapultepec Zoo.
Our director of animal care, Wendy Spencer, and Mexican wolf specialist Pamela Maciel attended this year’s meeting, which lasted from July 15-17. Here are some pictures from the three intense days in which breeding and transfer recommendations were made, and potential candidates for release into the wild were selected (most important, since this is the ultimate purpose of the program). It is a challenging, but worthy balancing act to ensure that not only are the needs of the program as a whole met, but the best outcome for each individual wolf involved is achieved.
As a result from last year’s MWSSP meeting breeding recommendations, three pair of Mexican wolves at Wolf Haven gave birth to litters this spring. There are currently a total of 19 Mexican wolves living at our sanctuary (11 adults and 8 pups). This makes a total of eight litters of Mexican pups that have been born at Wolf Haven between 1996 and 2015. Some of the first Mexican wolves released back into the southwest – after an absence of nearly 40 years – came from here. Mexican wolves from Wolf Haven have been released in 1998 and 2000. The births and releases were all direct outcomes of recommendations made at these annual meetings.
Wolf Haven International is proud to participate in this special program that is contributing to the recovery of the Mexican wolf.
Blog produced by Pamela Maciel, Mexican wolf specialist & Kim Young, Director of Communications,
Wolf Haven International
During the last week of March, wildlife advocates, wolf education centers, and captive breeding facilities celebrate the 16th anniversary of the return of the endangered Mexican wolf to its ancestral home in the wilds of the southwest. Missing from the landscape for more than 30 years, the rarest and most unique subspecies of the gray wolf was reintroduced to the wild on March 29, 1998. Hashtag LoboWeek is being used on all social media platforms as we jointly post information about this beautiful and still endangered animal.
|Moss (M1066), a male Mexican wolf
at Wolf Haven International
Thirty-eight years after receiving protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Mexican wolf remains the most endangered mammal in North America and the most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in the world. It is estimated that a minimum of 83 Mexican wolves live in the wild and 248 in captivity in 52 facilities.
Plans are being made for the first release IN FIVE YEARS of Mexican gray wolves into the wild! Nearly exterminated in the wild during by the 1930s, the Mexican wolf remains one of the most endangered mammals in North America. In May, Wolf Haven’s Director of Animal Care, Wendy Spencer assisted in the care & observation of two wolves scheduled for future release.She will write about her experience in a series of blog posts.
It has been almost 5 years since the Interagency Field Team (IFT) has done an initial release of Mexican gray wolves into the American southwest- a benchmark that has been considered long overdue by most accounts. Recently, however, the politics and policies that have long stymied any new releases into the primary recovery zone of Arizona were tenuously and temporarily set aside in favor of science in order to give the free ranging Mexican gray wolf population a much need genetic boost.
On April 25th, 2013, M1051 and F1126 were transported from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico to a chain- link release pen in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, just outside of Alpine, Arizona.
Unbeknownst to the pair, they bear a heavy burden- how well they fare in the wild will no doubt have strong implications for future releases, so it is critical to the program that everything goes well, not only the acclimation process, but the subsequent release as well. In order for those things to happen, it is equally critical that the IFT set the pair up for success and give them a fighting chance once they are released.
However, the pair has a tough road ahead for the life of a free ranging Mexican gray wolf is not an easy one. Unquestionably, the biggest challenge they face is their ability to stay clear of humans (and their guns)-it is no secret that the local residents are not overly receptive to the idea of having wolves back on the landscape and over the years, they have made their malcontent abundantly clear by illegally shooting and killing at least 46 of them. And while the habitat is ideal and well saturated with a robust prey base, the primary recovery area itself is relatively small which limits the number of wolves it can support. And as if those impediments weren’t enough, throw in disease and wildfires and speeding vehicles, as well as cows, and it becomes obvious that the odds are disproportionately stacked against them.
So… how exactly does the IFT go about setting up the pair for a successful release? Recently I was given the rare opportunity to not only get a behind the scenes look, but to also participate briefly in the process and it was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life…………………..