A family of 11 endangered Mexican wolves that originated at Wolf Haven International in Tenino was released into the wild Dec. 1 in Mexico.
The release was the largest of its kind in either country’s history, according to Wolf Haven.
“It’s very bittersweet; there’s always a risk when wolves are released,” said Kim Young, communications director for Wolf Haven. “But at the same time we keep reminding ourselves that that’s the whole purpose of the captive breeding program. It’s not to continue having them in captivity.”
The family of wolves originated at Wolf Haven, Young said. This is the third family of the Mexican gray wolves from Wolf Haven to be released into the wild.
The male, called “Brother,” was born at Wolf Haven in 2007. The female, named “Hopa,” was born at a captive-breeding facility in St. Louis in 2011 and transferred to Wolf Haven in 2014.
Wolf Haven has participated in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan program since 1994 as a captive breeding and pre-release site.
The two wolves were determined to be a good match and were selected for breeding by the captive breeding program.
“These wolves are not really ours, they belong with the program,” Young said.
Hopa gave birth to three pups in 2015. In April 2016, the five-wolf family was transferred to the Ladder Ranch in New Mexico. The female wolf was pregnant at the time, and gave birth to another six pups soon after arriving, bringing the family up to 11 members.
Ladder Ranch and Wolf Haven staff participated in the release of the 11-member wolf family Dec. 1 in Mexico, a culmination of efforts by groups including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Game and Fish, the Comision Nacional De Areas Naturales Protegidas, natural science faculty from the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro, the Endangered Wolf Center, Turner Endangered Species Fund (Ladder Ranch) and Wolf Haven.
This is the 10th release of Mexican gray wolves in Mexico and the largest to date.
The Mexican gray wolf has been listed on the Endangered Species Act since 1976, according to Wolf Haven. It is still one of the most endangered mammals in North America and in the world. Approximately 130 of the wolves live in the wild in the United States and Mexico, but that wasn’t always the case.
“The founding population of this subspecies was down to seven in the world, so every Mexican wolf alive today is somehow related to one of those seven remaining wolves,” Young said.
While the rescued wolves at Wolf Haven will stay there for life, all of the Mexican gray wolves will eventually be released to the wild, Young said.
Eight Mexican gray wolf litters have been born at Wolf Haven International in Tenino between 1996 and 2015. Today, the sanctuary has 14 Mexican gray wolves, including a family group of six.