The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest, smallest and southernmost species of 39 gray wolf subspecies. Once common throughout central Arizona and neighboring western Texas, southern New Mexico and northern Mexico, the Mexican wolf hasn’t been documented in its natural habitat since 1980. The Phoenix Zoo, home to five male Mexican wolves, is proud to join an effort that has led to a reintroduced population of at least 75 Mexican wolves currently living in an area of Arizona and New Mexico known as the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Mexican wolves are social animals that live in packs of three to five, and female wolves can produce up to seven pups in a single litter. Most of these animals weigh between 60 -80 pounds, and traverse a pack home range of 100-250 miles. Their diet primarily consists of hoofed animals like elk, deer and javelina.
Eleven Mexican gray wolves, each reared in a managed setting, were first released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in March of 1998, where they had not been seen in nearly 20 years. Four years later in 2002, the first birth of a wild-born litter came from a wild-born parent. By 2011, 58 Mexican wolves were living in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, and by year’s end in 2012 that population had increased to 75.
There are currently 270 Mexican gray wolves living in managed care. Individual wolves are chosen for release into the wild based on genetic profile, age, behavior and social group needs. All introduced wolves are fitted with radio-telemetry collars and monitored closely to assess their movements, home range, prey selection, and other behavioral data. Tracking, camera traps and scent posts are also used to monitor released wolves.
The Mexican wolf is the most genetically distinct of all gray wolf subspecies. The Phoenix Zoo worked with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan® program to assist with reproductive assessments on our five male wolves in both 2011 and 2012. During their regularly scheduled periodic exams, scientists collected genetic material from each of the wolves for testing and banking. Each animal’s genes are now cryopreserved for potential use in future management of this endangered species.