Mexican wolf breeding program gets boost from zoo

Mexican Cubs eat a quail carcass in their enclosure at Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City on Friday, July 2, 2021. Cubs were born on April 24 and are part of a binational effort with the United States to help the species get well. (AP Photo / Fernando Llano)

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Five Gray Cubs born at Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City are boosting efforts to expand the genetic diversity of endangered species as part of ongoing efforts to reintroduce animals to the wild decades after their birth. reduction in captive populations.

The puppies’ father, Rhi, warns them every lunchtime of the delivery of breakfast, in the form of chicken and quail meat brought by zookeeper Jorge Gutiérrez, 58.

Gutiérrez has looked after Rhi since birth and is now proud to see that he has formed a pack with the mother of the puppies, Seje.

” That’s wonderful. What I experience is unique, ”says Gutiérrez.

He watches the five Cubs come out of their den to eat. The three males and the two females were born in early April.

They are part of a four-decade binational program between the United States and Mexico to rear gray wolves in captivity and release them into the wild.

Even the “endangered” rating is progress for the Mexican wolf; Two years ago, given the success of the breeding program, the Mexican authorities were able to move the subspecies from its previous classification “probably extinct in the wild”.

For more than two decades, efforts to bring Mexican gray wolves back to the wild in the Southwestern United States have been fraught with conflict. Ranchers have complained about the challenges of having to scare wolves to keep their cattle from being eaten. Many said their livelihoods and rural way of life were at stake.

Environmentalists argue that the reintroduction of the wolf has stumbled as a result of illegal killings and that the management decisions they support are rooted in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt to accommodate ranchers and the calving season of the cattle. all year.

North America’s rarest gray wolf subspecies, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being hunted, trapped and poisoned on the brink of extinction. From the 1960s to the 1980s, seven gray wolves – considered the last of their kind – were captured and the captive breeding program began.

Wolves began to be released in the late 1990s. The wild population has nearly doubled in the past five years, with the last annual census finding around 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

In northern Mexico, the other part of the wolf’s historic range, the reintroduction first stumbled.

An effort to reintroduce them to the wild in the border state of Sonora in 2011 ended in tragedy when all five wolves were poisoned, it’s unclear by whom. But another release took place in 2012 in Chihuahua state, and these wolves now number around 40, most born in the wild.

Mexico is currently studying other areas for possible versions.

Fernando Gual, a veterinarian who runs zoos in Mexico City, notes that the Chapultepec Zoo also has a sperm and egg bank that provides a backup of genetic material.

But the best guarantees are animals like Seje, who holds out a piece of meat with his mouth to show the puppies how to eat.

“This is our jewel,” says Gual. “Every litter of puppies is a hope for the life of this species. “


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