Wild population of Mexican wolves sees another year of growth

The population census from 2023 showed there were 257 Mexican wolves distributed across Arizona and New Mexico up from 242 wolves counted in 2022.

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Image Credit: Jim Schulz/CZS-Brookfield Zoo

For the eighth consecutive year, the wild population of Mexican wolves saw another year of growth. The population census from 2023 showed there were 257 Mexican wolves distributed across Arizona and New Mexico up from 242 wolves counted in 2022.

The increase in population marks the longest continuous streak since recovery efforts began. 

“In the aggregate, the 2023 data points out that Mexican wolf recovery has come a long way since the first release,” Jim deVos, Arizona Game and Fish Department Mexican Wolf coordinator, said. “Each year, the free-roaming Mexican wolf population numbers increase and the areas they occupy expands. Genetic management using pups from captivity is also showing results. In total, 99 pups carefully selected for their genetic value have been placed in 40 wild dens since 2016, and some of these fosters have produced litters of their own.”

Information about the Mexican wolf population is gathered from November through February by the Interagency Field Team. The field team conducts ground and aerial surveys uses a variety of methods, including remote cameras, scat collection, and visual observation to count the population at the same time each winter. This allows for “comparable year-to-year trends at a time of year when the Mexican wolf population is most stable,” according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“It’s encouraging to see success across the board with our recovery efforts,” Brady McGee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery coordinator, said. “Having fostered Mexican wolves survive, disperse, pair up, breed, and start packs of their own tells us that fostering is working. These genetically diverse wolves, which came from captivity as pups and were placed into wild dens, play a vital role in boosting the genetic diversity of the wild population.” 

The Mexican wolf is listed as an endangered subspecies separate from the gray wold under the federal Endangered Species Act. Conservation efforts began in 1977 through a bi-national captive breeding program beginning with just seven Mexican wolves and in 1998, Mexican wolves were reintroduced into the wild.

Some key findings reported in 2023 include:

Among the 2023 findings:

  • 60 packs (two or more wolves) were documented at the end of 2023: 37 in New Mexico and 23 in Arizona.
  • Around 138 pups were born in 2023, with a 62 percent survival rate.
  • 26 breeding pairs were recorded in 2023 (15 in New Mexico, 11 in Arizona).

In addition to the wild population, nearly 350 Mexican wolves are cared for in more than 60 facilities throughout the United States and Mexico under the Mexican Wolf Saving Animals From Extinction program.

“While recovery is in the future, examining the last decade of data certainly provides optimism that recovery will be achieved,” deVos said.

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