By CYNTHIA R. FAGEN
Scientists are crossing their fingers that the offspring of these healthy pups will be candidates for release into the wild. Under an ambitious, federally funded program — the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan — the newborns will be raised in the hope they can prevent the extinction of one of North America’s rarest mammals, which currently number only 300 in captivity and about 75 in the wild.
All but seven Mexican wolves were wiped out by hunters and urban expansion in Arizona and New Mexico by the early 1970s, when conservationists stepped in to save the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf.
On Wednesday, the brothers were plucked from their den at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem as their shy parents stood at a distance. They were immediately flown on a private jet and bottle-fed until they arrived at their new home, the Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden in Evansville, Ind. — where they will be raised by foster wolf parents with a successful record of raising pups.
Maggie Howell, who runs the Westchester center, explained that the drastic measure, guided by the federal Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, had to be taken because the pups were in harm’s way. Last year, their mother, only known as No. F749, who mated with a different male, had a litter of eight. The WCC staff followed protocol and stayed out of the lobos’ way to allow the new parents to do their job, but all the pups died in the first month. The cause could not be determined.
“It’s such an emotional and sensitive decision to pluck these pups away from their mother. I think at some level you just have to hope that this is something bigger than their pack,” she said.
“Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think they know that, but their contribution will not only enhance their family but help benefit their wild kin in the future and save the species.”
Wildlife experts don’t rely on plain luck to find healthy genetic “value” within the Mexican wolf population — the MWSSP uses management software to determine which wolves have the most beneficial gene variations to be passed down through future generations. A total of 22 Mexican and three red wolves live in captivity on the 27-acre wooded spread. The center also has three ambassador wolves, who were raised by humans and travel for educational purposes.
So far, the Wolf Conservation Center has had pretty good success.
Two of their wolves have been released into the wild.