The future is looking brighter for the endangered Mexican gray wolf, as scientists have announced the birth of the first pup of the species to be born from artificial insemination that used frozen semen.
There are 130 Mexican gray wolves that remain in the wild, largely in Arizona and New Mexico. Some live at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, where the new pup was born. In collaboration with the Saint Louis Zoo, scientists at the center have been collecting and freezing semen from endangered wolves for more than 20 years.
"They help keep the air cleaner and the plants growing, and they help keep the deer and the elk herds healthier. Without them, the ecosystem falls apart," said Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center.
Using preserved semen can keep a diverse set of genes in a species and help promote the animal's survival. When there's a small number of animals in a species available, that raises the possibility that members of the same family will mate, leading to offspring with health problems and issues that affect their ability to survive, said Cheryl Asa, the retired director of the AZA Reproductive Management Center at the Saint Louis Zoo.
"Inbreeding at some level becomes inevitable, even with good management when you've got that small population, so we have to be especially careful," Asa said.
Inseminating female wolves is challenging. The species typically chooses one partner to mate with for its lifetime, breeds only once a year and is fertile for a short window of time.
"The timing is really rough," Asa said. "It's sort of anytime within a week. Even right now, even for domestic dogs, there is no way to precisely time a stimulated ovulation."
The pup, which has not been named yet, was born three weeks ago. Conservationists at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka only learned of its sex on Monday. They plan to closely monitor the pup as it develops and also determine the father, since the mother was inseminated with samples from two different males.
"We just did a three-week check on the puppy and it's a boy, which is so exciting," Mossotti said. "He is doing great. He is a big and very healthy pup."
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