Albuquerque Journal

BioPark Zoo wolves head to ‘wilding school’ in Mexico

Animals will be released after learning to hunt, survive

- BY RICK NATHANSON JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

Mexican gray wolves Kawi and Ryder, and their seven pups are off to school.

The pups were born at the ABQ BioPark Zoo last May. The tight-knit family is now headed to a “wilding school” south of Mexico City, where they will learn to hunt and survive in the wild before being released into their native range in northern Mexico.

“We’re excited and sad at the same time,” BioPark Zoo mammal curator Erin Flynn said. “It’s a zoo’s dream to directly help a wild population like this. It’s even more powerful and touching for us that it’s our beloved lobo that we’re helping.”

The relocation and release is part of a breeding program involving the Associatio­n of Zoos and Aquariums, the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan and the U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service.

The goal is to restore geneticall­y diverse Mexican gray wolves to their native Southwest territory in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico.

The BioPark Zoo has partnered with the USFWS since 1983 on Mexican wolf conservati­on and, since then, 79 wolf pups have been born there, Flynn said, adding that others have been wolves placed at the zoo after being injured, and in need of medical treatment and rehabilita­tion.

The trip to Mexico is something of a homecoming for mother wolf Kawi, who was born at the Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón in Mexico. She arrived at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in 2016. Ryder joined her at the zoo in 2018. Their first three pups were born the following year and included current zoo resident Archer, who is not currently recommende­d for breeding, but is expected to be part of a new pack at the zoo.

Despite the large number of pups born at the zoo, the successful breeding of wolves slowed significan­tly, and Ryder and Kawi’s 2019 litter was the first born there in 15 years, Flynn said.

The Mexican gray wolf, also known as the lobo, remains listed as an endangered species, Flynn said, and, since 1976, has been protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, the Mexican gray wolf was once common throughout Mexico and the Southwest United States. It was nearly eliminated in the wild by the 1970s. The USFWS initiated efforts to conserve the species starting in 1977.

According to the latest numbers available from the USFWS, as of March 2020, there were 163 Mexican gray wolves in the wild. Mexican conservati­on authoritie­s estimate there are 300 wolves living in the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Conservati­on and reintroduc­tion efforts have been an ongoing source of conflict with ranchers, who raise concerns about livestock predation.

In the wild, Mexican gray wolves can live up to 13 years, though the average lifespan range is from six to eight years, according to several online wolf conservati­on sites. In captivity, they can live up to 15 years.

Mexican gray wolves are about the size of a healthy German shepherd, weighing from 50 to 80 pounds at maturity, standing 28 to 32 inches at the shoulder, and measuring about 5½ feet long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail; females are at the smaller end of the spectrum.

 ?? COURTESY OF NEW MEXICO BIOPARK SOCIETY ?? Four Mexican gray wolf pups that were born at the BioPark Zoo in May.
COURTESY OF NEW MEXICO BIOPARK SOCIETY Four Mexican gray wolf pups that were born at the BioPark Zoo in May.

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