(3TV/CBS 5) — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is reporting great results with its Mexican wolf pup foster program. This year, 20 pups born into captivity have been “adopted,” or taken in, by “foster” packs in the wild.
AZGFD, along with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, worked together to make it happen and give the species a big genetic boost.
Biologists took 20 genetically diverse wolf pups from captive facilities across the U.S. Over a six-week period back in April and May, 12 of those pups were fostered into four different packs in eastern Arizona.
- Four pups from Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita were sent into the “Hoodoo pack”
- Four pups from the California Wolf Center in Julian, California were sent into the “Rocky Prairie pack”
- Three pups from the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri were sent into the “Elkhorn pack”
- One pup from the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, New Mexico was sent into the “Prime Canyon pack in Arizona”
In addition, eight pups were fostered into packs in the wilds of New Mexico, including 2 from the Phoenix Zoo.
A recent vet exam of the six Mexican gray wolf pups at the zoo determined that there are three boy pups and three girl pups in the litter.
Cross-fostering is a way to increase genetic diversity in the wild Mexican wolf population. It involves placing pups less than 14 days old from captive breeding populations into wild dens with similarly-aged pups to be raised as wild wolves.
Cross-fostered pups have the same survival rate as wild-born pups in their first year of life (about 50%), and survival rates using this technique are generally higher than other wolf release methods.
Wildlife managers have confirmed a record number of Mexican gray wolves have been reported dead this year, fueling concerns about the decades-long effort to return the endangered predator to the southwestern U.S.
“Managing genetics is one of the biggest challenges facing Mexican wolf conservation, even as constant progress is being made on numeric recovery,” said Jim DeVos, Assistant Director for Wildlife Management at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Science has proven that cross-fostering young pups works in increasing genetic diversity.”