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Mexican Wolf Reintroduction and Management

These pages last updated on 6/12/07. cmg

The Arizona Game and
Fish Department has been actively involved in reintroducing Mexican wolves to portions of their historical range for many years.

In the 1980s, the reintroduction effort focused mainly on public processes necessary to reach a decision for or against reintroduction.

Management activities during the 1990s included public opinion surveys, countless public meetings, site feasibility studies and surveys along both sides of the Mexican border for naturally occurring wolves. In addition, there was intensive coordination with cooperating agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the USDA Forest Service.

As a result of these activities and a Federal mandate from the Endangered Species Act of 1973, a Federal decision was made to release captive Mexican wolves in east-central Arizona. In March 1998, 11 captive-reared Mexican wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) in eastern Arizona. Since the initial release, additional releases have occurred.

With birth of the first wild-born litter from a wild-born parent in 2002, the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project entered into a new phase, whereby natural reproduction began to replace reintroductions from captive populations.

Scientific Name:
Canis lupus baileyi
. From the Latin canis, meaning dog; lupus, meaning wolf; and baileyi, honoring Vernon Bailey, U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey biologist in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

Smaller than a northern gray wolf, but larger than a coyote; more like a small German shepherd. Adults weigh 50-80 pounds; stand 30 inches tall at shoulder; measure 5 to 5.5-feet long, including 14- to 17-inch tail. Males are larger than females. Head and feet are large in proportion to body. Body color often appears mottled or patchy, with grizzled shades of buff, gray, black and rust. Coyotes weigh 20-35 pounds and stand about 20 tall inches at the shoulder.

Know the difference:


Distribution: Genetic analysis suggests a broad historical distribution for Mexican wolves. Their range once extended from Mexico City in the south, northward through Durango, Chihuahua and Sonora, then into Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and west Texas. Distribution of the Mexican wolf included broad overlap with other gray wolf subspecies.

Mexican wolves were extirpated from the United States by the mid-1900s. Wolves may possibly persist in Mexico, but none, except for the five wild wolves captured by Roy McBride in the late 1970s, have been confirmed for decades.

Habitat:Mexican wolf habitat consists primarily of oak, pine and juniper woodlands and forests. They also occur in grasslands and riparian corridors associated with these habitat types. Generally, wolf habitat occurs above 4,000-feet elevation, although they have occasionally been found at lower elevations.

Biology: Mexican wolves were eradicated from the Southwest before being studied scientifically. Anecdotal information from predator-control agents in the early 1900s gives a biased sense of their natural history. Current monitoring of released and wild-born wolves in Arizona and New Mexico is confirming many basic assumptions about wolves in the wild and shedding new light on various aspects of their natural history.

Mexican wolf packs consist of the adult (alpha) pair, pups and sometimes, related yearlings. Their home range may extend from 100 to over 500-square miles. Howling is the primary form of wolf communication, within packs and between other packs.

Dens are usually located in broken, sloping country, near good foraging habitat and water. They canbe dug from scratch or be just an enlarged hole in a bank or under a ledge. Dens may have several entrances, usually with a panoramic view. They are usually visible as a mound of dirt with an entrance hole, and may be used more than once.

Breeding typically occurs in mid-February, and litters of up to eight pups are generally born in mid-April. About four weeks after birth, the pups emerge from the den. Although still nursing, the adults bring pieces of prey, then whole carcasses, for the pups to scavenge. At three months, the pups begin to accompany the adults on hunts. By December, they are able to hunt alone, although the adults continue to provide food.

Historically, deer were the primary, large, native prey of the Mexican wolf. They also took pronghorn, javelina, elk and the occasional small mammal. As native prey populations plummeted in the Southwest during the late 1800s and early 1900s, wolves took advantage of increasing livestock numbers throughout their range.

Today, elk are the primary prey of reintroduced and wild-born wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. Mexican wolves also sometimes feed on livestock, which impacts the livestock producer, as well as the recovery effort. Most prey is killed outright, although Mexican wolves will scavenge the carcasses of already dead animals.

Status: The Mexican wolf is managed as a Species of Special Concern in Arizona. In 1976, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species. Although the reintroduced population in portions of Arizona and New Mexico is growing, supplemented by additional releases, human-caused and other mortality factors are jeopardizing population objectives.

At the beginning of 2007, about 50 to 60 Mexican wolves populate the BRWRA. Approximately 300 additional wolves are being held in various captive-breeding facilities located throughout the U.S. and in Mexico.

Management Needs:The Mexican wolf is an endangered-species rarity. Its major recovery needs are not habitat management and restoration. Rather, reintroduced wolves show very clearly what is needed to achieve recovery, which is primarily education and tolerance. Education efforts to prevent people from mistaking wolves as coyotes and shooting them; increased law enforcement presence throughout the wolf recovery area; heightened ability to investigate mortalities more effectively and to pursue legal actions against those who intentionally, but unlawfully, kill wolves; and greater driver awareness to reduce mortalities of wolves using roads as travel corridors are some of the actions needed to assist with wolf recovery. Adequate funding for the recovery and management of wolves is essential. Continuing funding is needed to conduct wolf research, monitoring activities, public outreach, prevention of and response to depredation incidents, field surveys to determine and monitor presence of wild wolves, and to evaluate potential reintroduction or reoccupation sites for habitat capabilities, prey base and potential conflicts.

Adaptive Management: The Mexican Wolf Reintroduction Project is a cooperative effort administered by six co-lead agencies: Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, White Mountain Apache Tribe, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, USDA Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies function as an Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC), currently chaired by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. This management approach provides opportunities for participation by local governments, nongovernmental organizations and individuals from all segments of the public.

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External Resources [More]
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Program
- View annual Mexican wolf population statistics charts
NOTE: External sites will open in a new browser window.
Learn more
- Adaptive Management Oversight Committee and administration of Mexican wolf reintroduction project
- Mexican Wolf Adaptive Management Work Group meeting agendas and summary notes
- Interagency Field Team overview and field activities
- View the weekly wolf telemetry flight location information and 3-month wolf distribution map
- View the latest wolf project monthly status reports
- In-depth natural history information on Mexican gray wolves [PDF, 60kb]
- Mexican gray wolf fact sheet Southwest Region [PDF, 125kb]
- Mexican Wolf Recovery Program reintroduction facts [PDF, 103kb]
- Mexican gray wolf reintroduction fact sheet for guides, outfitters and forest visitors [PDF, 102kb]
- Have Mexican wolf and other endangered species news delivered to your inbox

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