The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) is excited to announce the birth of a litter of five Mexican Gray Wolves at Brookfield Zoo on April 25. This is the second litter born to mom, Zana (age 4), and dad, Flint (age 6).
Currently, three of the puppies are in a den, being nurtured by their pack, at the zoo’s Regenstein Wolf Woods habitat. Animal care staff anticipates they will begin to emerge from the den site and be visible to guests in a few weeks.
As part of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, the remaining two puppies, Blaze (M1471) and Brooke (F1472), were placed in the Arizona-based Elk Horn Pack of wild wolves, which will foster them with their own litter. In pup fostering, very young pups are moved from one litter to another litter of similar age so that the receiving pack raises the pups as their own. The technique, which has proven to be successful in this species, as well as in other wildlife, shows promise to improve the genetic diversity of the wild wolf population.
Following a neonatal examination, the pups, accompanied by CZS animal care staff, were flown to Arizona on April 30. There, staff met up with a team of biologists from the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team, who successfully placed the pups in a den in which the alpha female had just given birth to her own litter.
Since 2003, the Society has been a partner in this significant recovery program, which is a multi-agency collaboration between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the USDA Forest Service, and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—Wildlife Services, as well as private organizations. As part of this program, adult and offspring wolves at Brookfield Zoo are potential candidates for release to the wild.
“We are extremely proud to be able to contribute to this important conservation effort for the Mexican Gray Wolf population,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal programs for the Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. “The collaboration with USFWS and the other participating organizations is a real team effort and demonstrates the dedication of all parties to make this a successful program while also raising awareness for this highly endangered and iconic North American species.”
The Chicago Zoological Society plays a pivotal role in the recovery program, demonstrating its commitment to helping the Mexican Gray Wolf population. The first successful fostering of Mexican Gray Wolf pups occurred in the wild and included offspring born to a wolf from Brookfield Zoo, who was the alpha female of the Coronado Pack living in the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. Sadly, she was found deceased in January 2015, but her legacy lives on with her pups.
The fostering of Blaze and Brooke is only the second time in the history of the program that pups born in professional care were placed with an established wild pack.
“The USFWS is extremely grateful to the Chicago Zoological Society. We value our partnership with the Society and other member institutions of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan managed breeding program who have contributed so much to the recovery of the species," said Benjamin Tuggle, the Service’s southwest regional director. “Pup fostering is just one of the management tools we can use to improve the genetic health of the wild population.”
In addition to Zana, Flint, and the puppies, the wolf pack at Brookfield Zoo also includes the pair’s four yearlings, born in 2015. The pups born last year will assist their parents in rearing the new additions by regurgitating food for them and engaging them in play, among other behaviors. In addition, the yearlings will learn important parental skills from Zana and Flint for when they have their own litters.
“As the pups grow, zoo guests will have an amazing opportunity to witness the complex social structure of the wolf pack as they interact with each other,” said Joan Daniels, associate curator of mammals.
The Mexican Gray Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), also known as the lobo, is a subspecies of Gray Wolf once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the smallest of North America's Gray Wolves, and is similar to C. l. nubilus, though it is distinguished by its smaller, narrower skull and darker pelt, which is yellowish-gray and heavily clouded with black over the back and tail.
Mexican Gray Wolves are the most rare subspecies of Gray Wolves in North America. There once were approximately 4,000 wolves in their historic range. In May 1976, the species was listed on the Endangered Species List by USFWS. From the 1980s until 1998, when reintroduction efforts began, Mexican Gray Wolves were considered extinct in the wild. Their demise, which began in the early 1900s, was the result of anti-predator campaigns in the United States and Mexico.
The current population of the species in professional care is 243 individuals, in 54 institutions.
As of December 2015, a minimum of 97 Mexican Gray Wolves were living in the wild. This reintroduced population is now a naturally functioning wolf population with regular births occurring.
Mexican Gray Wolf mom, Zana, and her first litter in 2015:
Mexican Gray Wolf dad, Flint: