Earth Notes: Helping Mexican Wolves Get a Good Start

Jun 25, 2014

Foster parents help a lot of kids from difficult backgrounds in getting a better start in life. Now they’re also helping a rare species that’s been struggling to gain a foothold in the Southwestern wilds.

Wildlife biologists have been releasing and monitoring endangered Mexican wolves into the New Mexico-Arizona border area for years in an effort to reestablish a top predator that had disappeared in the wild.

The animals can survive on their own in the wild on a diet of deer, elk, and other prey. But, there have been conflicts with ranching communities whose cattle use the same terrain of wooded hills, mountains and mesas.

In the spring, biologists for the first time placed foster wolf pups into the care of an experienced wolf mother.

They did so because the pups’ wolf mother was inexperienced and had been separated from the pups’ father, making the survival of their offspring unlikely. So biologists placed two two-week-old pups in a den with a female wolf that’d already raised some of her own young.

If the young wolves survive and reproduce, they’ll increase the genetic diversity of the Southwest’s small population of Mexican wolves. That may help the animals better deal with future environmental challenges.

And because the foster mother’s pack has in the past avoided conflicts with livestock and human residents, biologists hope that her offspring will succeed in an area where both people and wild wolves are at home.