The U.S. population of endangered Mexican gray wolves grew by32 animals, from 131 in 2018 to 163 in 2019, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servicecensus announced yesterday. The numbers represent a 24% increase — the largest increase since 2014. Nineteen packs had pups alive and thriving at the end of the year.
“This increase represents countless moments of wolf vigilance and smarts in avoiding people, which is a big part of keeping their precious pups alive,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “It’s heartening to have more wolves in our forests, but federal officials need to take much stronger action to establish healthy genetic diversity.”
12 captive-born wolf pups were released into the wild last year to be raised by unrelated wolves. This attempt aimed at sharing the more diverse captive population’s genes with the genetically impoverished wild population. Only two of the 12 pups are known to have survived.
Despite releases of 30 captive-born pups from 2016 through 2019, just seven are known to have survived. The inbreeding of Mexican gray wolves has worsened each year.
The Fish and Wildlife Service refuses to release pairs of well-bonded adult wolves with their pups — family packs — from captivity into the wild. Such releases established the existing wolf population and have a much higher success rate than separating pups from their mothers for release. The livestock industry-dominated Arizona Game and Fish Department’s opposition to family releases which halted the practice after 2006.
Center for Biological Diversity advocates for resuming the releases of family packs of wolves from captivity to the wild to reduce inbreeding. The wild population of Mexican gray wolves in the United States was established in 1998 through the successful releases of family packs.