The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that the number of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the U.S. jumped 24 percent last year,media outlet The Verge reported. This is exciting news for environmentalists, who have not seen such a high number since 2014. A recent survey found 163 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, compared with 131 in 2018.
Last spring, researchers monitored at least 21 of the 28 wolves to have cubs. The survival rates for these cubs are higher than usual, reaching 58 percent last year, compared with an average of 50 percent. “The numbers indicate that there are more gray wolves in the wild, more breeding pairs and more cubs,” Amy Lueders, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a press release.
Gray wolves have traditionally been targeted by ranchers in an attempt to protect their livestock. After nearly wiping out the southwestern United States in the 1970s, Mexican gray wolves are now the rarest subspecies in North America. This has led to efforts to save them, including keeping the cubs in captivity and releasing them into the wild.
Last year, a quantitative census team of federal, state, tribal and international partners kept 12 cubs in wild nests. Since their release, it has been able to locate two of the cubs and is still looking for other cubs that may have survived. The future release of entire wolves, rather than their cubs, may increase the chances of captive-born wolves surviving in the wild, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement released Wednesday.
Environmentalists hope to introduce captive wolves to promote their genetic diversity. Inbreeding has been a major problem since the near extinction of wild Mexican gray wolves. “If the two cubs survive to the age of two and breed successfully, their inbreeding will be much less than that of almost all other wolves in the wolves,” the Center for Biological Diversity said. Their survival is therefore of particular importance to the entire subspecies.