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Missouri Wolf Center in the Spotlight

Two Mexican Gray Wolf pups were raised in Missouri, and put in a den in New Mexico. Biologists won't know for several months whether they survived. (Endangered Wolf Center)
Two Mexican Gray Wolf pups were raised in Missouri, and put in a den in New Mexico. Biologists won't know for several months whether they survived. (Endangered Wolf Center)
May 12, 2016

ST. LOUIS - A couple of wolf pups have gotten a lot of attention after becoming the first to be born in captivity and placed in a den in the wild, where a female wolf had just given birth. The pups were taken to New Mexico for release shortly after being born at the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis, where Regina Mossotti is the director of animal care. She said there are only 97 Mexican Gray wolves, and in order for them to survive, what they call "cross-fostering" is necessary.

"If you have low genetic variability it can lead to things like disease and deformities," she said. "Like with any species, including humans, you want to have increased genetic variability to keep the population strong and healthy."

Biologists won't know for several months whether the transferred wolf pups survive. The Endangered Wolf Center was founded in 1971 by Marlin Perkins, of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" fame. Mossotti said even though it's been in St. Louis for nearly 50 years, not many people know about the center.

Mossotti said another wolf at the center is the Red Wolf, which is the most endangered wolf in the world. It used to roam the Southeastern United States but is now only in North Carolina, and there are only 40 of them left.

"Most people don't even know that the Red Wolf exists, let alone that it's an American treasure," she added. "And what I mean by that is, it literally can't be found in any other country, so it's been a big priority of ours."

Another species they work with is the African Painted Dog, which is also endangered because of disease, loss of habitat and hunters. Mossotti said there has been an innovative approach to helping the animals survive. Locals are encouraged to find traps set by poachers, make art out of them and then sell it.

"It's a great way to entice them to do conservation help catch the poachers, or at least stop them from poaching, and get excited about doing conservation in their community, while ultimately saving the African Painted Dog and many other species," she said.

There are six different wolf species at the center and it's open to the public. Mossotti said you can take a tour and even "howl with the wolves."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO