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Two Mexican Gray Wolf pups born at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo swapped places with two wild-born pups in New Mexico as part of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Grey Wolf Recovery Program. 

The pups born at Brookfield Zoo are now integrated with a wild Wolf pack in New Mexico, and the wild-born pups are being reared by the zoo’s Wolves.  This process, called cross-fostering, maintains genetic diversity in the wild and zoo-dwelling populations of this endangered species.

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DrCopper_BZexam_1250 (1)1Photo Credit:  Brookfield Zoo

In early May, teams from Brookfield Zoo gathered up the largest male and female pups from a litter of five born at the zoo on April 22.  At just 11 days old, the pups required feedings every four hours as they were transported by plane and van to the San Mateo Wolf pack’s den in New Mexico.

As the adults in the San Mateo pack moved down the canyon, the zoo’s field team entered the den and counted eight pups in the litter. Two were selected to bring back to the Brookfield Zoo.

Scents are important to Wolves, so each of the new puppies was rolled in their new den's substrate, urine, and feces to ensure that all the pups smelled the same and they’d be accepted as members of their new families.  The zoo reports that the zoo's pack is providing excellent care to the pups, and they emerged from the den with their foster siblings in late May.

Keepers Lauren Gallucci and Racquel Ardisana explained the thrill of participating in this meaningful conservation effort. “We began our careers in animal care because we want to make a difference in wildlife education and conservation, connecting zoo guests to the larger issues in our natural world. Having the opportunity to make such a direct impact on the conservation of a species for which we care every day really hit home!”

Native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico, Mexican Gray Wolves were hunted to near-extinction in the 20th century. By 1927, they were thought to be extirpated from New Mexico. The last wild Mexican Gray Wolves known to live in Texas were killed in 1970.

After the species was listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1976, plans to reestablish the species began. By the mid-2010s, more than 100 Wolves were living in the recovery area. 

The zoo’s participation in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program shows how zoos can partner with other conservation organizations to help save species.