Celebrate Wolf Awareness Week 2019 at Brookfield Zoo


Every October Brookfield Zoo joins with zoos and wolf centers across the country in celebrating Wolf Awareness Week, a week focused on sharing why wolves are such an important part of the landscape in the United States. This year, Wolf Awareness Week takes place from October 20th-26th. In honor of this special week, I would like to share some information about the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, to celebrate how zoos like Brookfield helped save Mexican wolves, or lobos, from the brink of extinction.

Mexican Wolf History
Mexican wolves, also known as lobos, are the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. Lobos were once common in the American southwest, roaming from central Mexico up through Arizona and New Mexico. Lobos are also the smallest subspecies of gray wolf, weighing between 50-80 lbs. They are carnivores, typically preying on elk, mule deer, and small mammals.

As the human population grew in the southwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so did the livestock industry. Lobos would sometimes target and hunt this livestock and quickly got the reputation of being a pest species. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, ranchers persecuted lobos in retaliation for lost livestock and government-run wolf extermination campaigns began. By the 1970s, lobos were considered extinct in the United States and the number left in the wild in Mexico dipped dangerously low. Without intervention, lobos faced near-certain extinction. Luckily, things took a positive turn in 1973 when congress passed the Endangered Species Act. Lobos were listed as endangered just three years later and as a provision of that listing, a plan for survival and conservation of the species was created.

Captive Recovery Program Brings New Hope
In 1977, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began efforts to conserve the lobo and in 1979, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formed the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team. The team worked towards the goal of re-establishing a viable and self-sustaining population of at least 100 wolves in part of their historic range in the United States. Between 1977 and 1980, five wolves were captured in Mexico, to start a captive population. With some trial and error, wild-born wolves began successfully breeding in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, and within a few years, the program was well established. By 1999, the captive population grew to 178 lobos living at 40 zoos and sanctuaries in the U.S. and Mexico.


Lobos Return to their Ancestral Home
In 1997, the government approved a reintroduction plan and the Blue Range Wolf recovery area, which spanned east-central Arizona and west-central New Mexico, became the lobo’s new home. Wolves born in zoos as part of the recovery program were moved to Arizona and allowed time to acclimate into the forest in penned areas before their full release. In March 1998, 11 captive-reared Mexican wolves were released to the recovery area, their ancestral home from which they had been missing for decades.

Brookfield Zoo Joins the Recovery Efforts
Since the 2003 opening of Regenstein’s Wolf Woods, the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, has been a partner in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Program. In July 2014, Ernesta (F1126), a wolf that resided at Brookfield Zoo from 2010-2012, was released into the recovery area with her mate and their pups. Unfortunately, Ernesta was found deceased in the recovery area in January of 2015 but her legacy lives on. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service located her son, M1349, this past December. He is now the alpha of his own pack.

Contributions through Cross-Fostering
In late 2014, Brookfield received a new breeding pair of wolves, Zana and Flint. The pair successfully raised three litters of pups here at Brookfield Zoo, adding 14 new wolves to the population, but their contribution did not end there. In 2016, 2 puppies born into Zana and Flint’s second litter were placed in the Arizona-based Elk Horn Pack of wild wolves. The wild pack then fostered the puppies and raised them with their own litter. In 2017, the zoo’s pack contributed two additional puppies from their new litter, this time to the New Mexico-based San Mateo pack. This fostering technique improves the genetic diversity of the wild lobo population. Read more about the 2017 fostering at https://www.czs.org/SanMateo. This cross-fostering technique has helped the wild population of lobos reach 131 individuals, the highest number since the recovery program began.

What’s New at Regenstein’s Wolf Woods?
Things here at Brookfield Zoo have quieted down a bit over the past year. Flint and Zana moved to a new home at the Endangered Wolf Center last fall and their grown pups moved to other zoos when they reached natural dispersal age. Ela, their daughter from their second litter, remained here at Brookfield Zoo. We introduced her to now eight-year-old male, Apache, last fall with hopes the pair would produce their own litter in the spring. Although we saw some interest during the breeding season, the pair did not produce puppies. It looks like Ela and Apache may have needed a little more time to get acquainted. We have our fingers crossed for this year! In the meantime, you can visit the pair at Regenstein’s Wolf Woods.

-Racquel Ardisana, Senior Animal Care Specialist

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Posted: 10/20/2019 9:59:32 AM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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