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Mexican gray wolf  Canis lupus baileyi
ESA status: endangered and experimental, non-essential

Mexican Wolf Photo FW Service

A captive Mexican wolf paces near the fence at the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico, one of the three facilities where Mexican wolves are acclimated to life in the wild before being released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area or, if they are not chosen for release, indefinitely imprisoned. Unable to roam freely, she feels uneasy – she’s sensing some bad news on the wind from her relatives attempting to live in freedom beyond the fence.

The Mexican wolf is the smallest subspecies of grey wolf, uniquely adapted to the arid environments of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, its historic range. Predator control programs nearly succeeded in eliminating the Mexican wolf from the landscape by 1970. The entire captive population descended from only seven wolves, the last members of a population barely shuttled into a captive breeding program before it went extinct in the wild. Without the wolf, elk and deer are free to dawdle in valleys and by streams, eating their fill and degrading the ecosystem; wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone has resulted in flourishing streamside vegetation and increased biodiversity.

Reintroduction of the Mexican wolf began in 1998 as an attempt to restore balance to its arid ecosystem, but trouble was not far behind.  Many of the wolves released into the wild have died, and the majority of deaths have been human-caused. Some have been shot illegally by poachers or during authorized, federal predator control actions.  Some were hit by cars. Others died accidentally when they were recaptured for translocation or to be brought back to captivity, and some of those back in captivity have never been re-released. The wild population is barely hanging on; the last count of Mexican wolves in the wild, completed in January 2009, found 42 wolves and only 2 breeding pairs. Since 1998, the federal government has removed (either by lethal control or recapture) more than three times as many Mexican wolves as currently exist in the wild.

Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates the wild Mexican wolf population as “experimental, non-essential.” This is not enough to ensure their recovery, and WildEarth Guardians has petitioned for full protection for the Mexican wolf as a subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. We are fighting to reform cattle grazing in the Blue Range, as livestock interests have been the most vocal and powerful opponents of wolf reintroduction, and we are working hard to establish sufficient habitat protections for the wolf across its historic range. 

Here behind the fence, this wolf is painstakingly monitored, her genetic make-up recorded in a studbook, her reproductive performance, behavior, and health all tabulated. The only thing she lacks is freedom. WildEarth Guardians will not rest until she can go safely into the wild where she belongs.

Listen to the Bluestem Pack recording provided by the Arizona Game and Fish Department website.

photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service