Brookfield Zoo’s New Born Mexican Wolf Pups Soar to New Homes: How Aerial Transfers Are Boosting Wild Populations

June 3, 2024
2 mins read
One of seven Mexican wolf pups born at Brookfield Zoo Chicago on April 27, who was recently flown to Mexico and placed with a wild wolf pack to help increase the species’ population in the southwest United States—Arizona and New Mexico.
One of seven Mexican wolf pups born at Brookfield Zoo Chicago on April 27, who was recently flown to Mexico and placed with a wild wolf pack to help increase the species’ population in the southwest United States—Arizona and New Mexico. Source- Brookfield Zoo

On April 27, seven Mexican gray wolf pups were born at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. This conservation effort, involving multiple agencies, has proven to be a successful strategy for increasing the population of the subspecies in the southwestern United States—Arizona and New Mexico—and in Mexico, as reported by Brookfield Zoo in a statement.

At 10 days old, the pups—six males and one female—were cared for by two animal care specialists and a veterinary technician from Brookfield Zoo during their flight to New Mexico. The aerial transport was provided by LightHawk Conservation Flying, a non-profit organization that connects pilots with organizations to help transport endangered species to new homes, among other conservation projects.

Upon arrival, members of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team covered the pups with the scent of wild pups of similar age already present in the den to ensure that they all smelled the same. Before being placed back in the den, DNA samples were taken from all the pups, and they were assigned pedigree numbers.

Biologists monitored the mothers with radio collars to verify that each one returned to her den and successfully accepted the zoo-born pups as their own. This proven process, known as fostering, involves transferring zoo-born wolf pups to wild pack dens to improve the genetic diversity of the wild population. This year marked a milestone in the fostering of pups in the Program: a pup born at another facility was the 100th to be placed with a wild pack since fostering began in 2014.

 Dr. Lily Parkinson, a clinical veterinarian at Brookfield Zoo Chicago, examines a Mexican wolf pup born at the Zoo on April 27. Photo Source- Brookfield Zoo

“As part of our ongoing collaboration in the Program, we were thrilled to once again be able to contribute to this year’s fostering of pups,” said Mark Wanner, Associate Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation at Brookfield Zoo in a statement. “We are extremely proud to be a part of this effort and share its success with our guests and hopefully inspire them to also care about these magnificent creatures that play an important role in the ecosystem,” he added.

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Two additional female pups born in the litter will remain at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. The pups are still in a den with their mother, but visitors will be able to see them in the coming weeks in the Regenstein Wolf Woods habitat along with their parents, 5-year-old Vivilette and 11-year-old Amigo, as well as Ahote, their older brother born in 2023.

The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest and genetically distinct subspecies of the gray wolf in North America. Approximately 4,000 individuals lived in its historic range, which included central and northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. In May 1976, the USFWS added the species to the Endangered Species List. From the 1980s until 1998, when reintroduction efforts began, Mexican wolves were considered extinct in the wild. Their disappearance, which began in the early 20th century, was a result of predator control campaigns in the United States and Mexico.

A Mexican wolf pup born at Brookfield Zoo Chicago on April 27 is weighed as part of its physical exam. Photo Source- Brookfield Zoo

Maggie Dwire, Mexican Wolf Recovery Program deputy coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, “With the help of our amazing SAFE partners, including Brookfield Zoo Chicago, we fostered a record number of Mexican wolf pups into the wild this year. Fostering is a truly remarkable conservation achievement, demonstrating what can be accomplished when partners come together under a unified goal to recover endangered wildlife.” 

Mexican wolves, however, have seen population recovery in recent years. According to the 2023 population census conducted by the USFWS, wild Mexican wolf numbers saw another year of growth. The increase—a minimum of 257 Mexican wolves distributed in Arizona and New Mexico—marks the eighth consecutive year of population growth, which is the longest continuous streak since recovery efforts began, indicated Brookfield Zoo.

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