Mexican wolves, a type of gray wolf, were once common across the Southwestern United States and Mexico, but they were nearly extinct in the wild by the 1970s due to conflict with livestock. In an effort to save the species, federal officials listed them as endangered in 1976. Since the first captive Mexican wolves were released in the Southwest in 1998, their numbers have steadily increased. Last year, they passed a big population milestone.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently announced that the Mexican wolf population in Arizona and New Mexico has risen above 200 for the first time since the reintroduction began. Overall, a minimum of 241 wild wolves were documented in 2022, a 23% increase over 2021’s tally of 196. The agency notes the number is also more than double what it was in 2017.
Brady McGee, USFWS Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, says, “This milestone has been 25 years in the making. To go from zero wild Mexican wolves at the start to 241 today is truly remarkable. In 2022, we recorded more packs, more breeding pairs, and a growing occupied range, proving we are on the path to recovery. These achievements are a testament to partner-driven conservation in the west.”
The agency shared other findings from the population count, including that there was a minimum of 59 total packs, with 40 in New Mexico and 19 in Arizona. There was also a minimum of 31 breeding pairs, which produced at least 121 pups throughout the year, at least 81 of which survived until the end of the year. That amounts to a 67% survival rate, substantially higher than the average of 50%.
To gather these figures each year, the Interagency Field Team uses ground and aerial surveys between November and February. Their methods include remote cameras, scat collection, and visual observation. Officials also take some steps to ensure they’ll have more data going forward.
Stewart Liley, Chief of Wildlife at the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, explains, “During this count and capture effort, we were able to capture and radio collar 21 wolves, which will provide a better understanding of wolf activity and help with on the ground wolf management. As we work toward achieving recovery goals, we continue working to build a strong, cooperative team to manage wolves across the range.”
USFWS says between partners in the United States and Mexico, there are also 380 wolves in more than 60 facilities through the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan.
Wildlife officials say that the main threat to the species’ recovery is social tolerance. The Arizona Game and Fish Department says it works to address the concerns of those who live, work, and play in the wolves’ habitat while promoting a self-sustaining population that is no longer at risk of extinction.Whizzco