St. Louis, MO – Five Mexican gray wolf pups - four males and one female - have been born at the Endangered Wolf Center, about 25 miles southwest of St. Louis. In the United States, there are only 42 Mexican gray wolves living in the wild, in Arizona and New Mexico. St. Louis Public Radio's Veronique LaCapra spoke with Kim Scott, Director of Animal Care & Conservation, about the Center's efforts to help bring back this highly endangered species.
KIM SCOTT: This facility has been one of the most successful facilities, particularly with the Mexican gray wolf, and it's a real testament to actually the space that we can give them. Our wolves here grow up in a very natural environment. We're able to have them be reared and live in what we call "multi-generational packs." So that means we can keep Mom and Dad, and their first year offspring, together through a second breeding season, and then those puppies are growing up with their older siblings, the older siblings are learning parenting skills, so that makes them very successful and very knowledgeable when we put them back out in the wild. They have skills, and we're really one of the only facilities that can provide that, which is why we've been so successful at providing reintroduced Mexican gray wolves. Every pack in the wild today can trace its heritage back to this facility.
VERONIQUE LACAPRA: So what's going to happen to these little pups when they get older?
SCOTT: We do have expectations that they will be put into the wild, so they will be considered for recovery reintroduction into Arizona or New Mexico, possibly recovery into Mexico. This is a program that's owned and managed bi-nationally, so the Mexican and U.S. governments own these animals and work cooperatively to breed them and reintroduce them. And because they're going to grow up in a natural environment with a pack, they're going to have those skills where they will make good recovery animals, so that's what we're hoping. In the next two to three years, they will go out to the wild.
LACAPRA: Can you talk a little about the history of the Mexican gray wolf? How endangered is it? How rare are these animals?
SCOTT: It's the most endangered wolf in the world. There's only a little over 300 of them on the planet. At one time, they were literally down to five animals in the wild. They were trapping them back in the late '70s, early '80s, because they understood that, "hey, there's not a lot out here," and so they very purposely went out looking for all the ones that were left and that's how many they found.
LACAPRA: And what caused the population to drop down to only five?
SCOTT: Well, we didn't really respect carnivores in North America, and people are often frightened by carnivores. And what I mean by carnivores: wolves, and bears, and mountain lions. These are large predators that roamed the countryside and we didn't see them as integral to the ecosystem. They threatened our livelihoods with our livestock and those kinds of situations. There were individual bounties, you could make money off of killing a wolf or a bear or another predator. So by doing that we basically just decimated the populations down to either extinctions in some species, or very small remnant populations, like the Mexican gray wolf, before we decided to do anything about it.
LACAPRA: So what is your ultimate goal with recovery efforts with the Mexican gray wolf?
SCOTT: With the Mexican gray, it's approximately 100 animals in the wild, and that's roughly 30 packs or so. That would be the recovery goal where then it would be maintained and sustained. We're only at 42 animals now, so we have a long way to go to reach that recovery.