Ambassador wolf Atka has won the hearts and opened the minds of hundreds of thousands of people in his 14 years. He’s a powerful presence in the fight to preserve wolves’ rightful place in the environment, and for the Wolf Conservation Center staff and volunteers, the best boss we’ll ever have. We love you, Atka!
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 (USFWS) release efforts, 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.
During the spring positive steps were taken toward recovery, USFWS forged ahead despite political state 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. And yesterday USFWS released news that at least two of the cross-fostered pups are confirmed alive – evidence of success in cross-fostering program!
“This is great news,” explained WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell. Pup-fostering is an incredibly effective tool for augmenting the genetic health of the wild population. We cannot, however, rely on cross-foster events alone, recovery demands releasing more family groups into the wild too.”
Federal biologists and independent scientists have repeatedly made clear that without such releases, wolf inbreeding will worsen — crippling chances of recovery.
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.