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Biologists Introduce "Foster" Wolf Pups to New Mexico Pack

Two pups born to Mexican gray wolves at the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri were recently introduced into a wild den in New Mexico. (Endangered Wolf Center)
Two pups born to Mexican gray wolves at the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri were recently introduced into a wild den in New Mexico. (Endangered Wolf Center)
May 3, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have released a pair of Mexican gray wolf pups born in a wildlife preserve into an existing den in New Mexico, but the state isn't happy about it.

New Mexico game officials had warned the federal agency to not introduce new wolves into the state and is threatening to sue.

Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation with the Missouri-based Endangered Wolf Center, assisted with the operation and says a lot of things had to go just right to successfully accomplish the cross-fostering.

"And it's just a really tough thing to do, in the fact that all the stars have to align," she says. "The pups have to be born within a few days of each other. You have to be able to know where the wild den is, you have to be able to get to the wild den, you have to be able to get transportation. The weather has to cooperate. This year it was neat, because everything really lined up."

Mossotti says once a den was found, she flew with the pups from near St. Louis, Mo., to New Mexico, traveled overland for hours and hiked more than a mile to get them to the den near the Arizona border.

The New Mexico Game and Fish Department claims the state's wildlife management laws take precedence, but federal officials forged ahead.

Now state officials say they're studying their legal options.

Mossotti says it may be mid-summer before biologists can confirm whether the pups were adopted. She adds all Mexican wolves in the wild can trace their roots to the Endangered Wolf Center, and says it is critical to add new blood to the wolf packs.

"Mexican wolves are critically endangered," Mossotti says. "They're one of the most endangered wolves in the world, and so when you are dealing with a population that's that small, genetic diversity is always an important factor in recovering an endangered species."

She says this cross-fostering exchange was the first time that captive Mexican wolf pups have been introduced into a wild litter. The last count showed only 97 of the endangered Mexican wolves living in the wild, and Mossotti says introducing new pups is vital to their long-term survival.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM