The Wild Reborn
The road to recovery for the Mexican gray wolf starts in a sanctuary in New York where scientists are hoping the next generation hears the call of the wild, reports Julia Hill
Lobo Week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of 11 wolves to the Blue Range Recovery Area of Arizona and New Mexico
Few creatures stir such strong feelings of awe and fear as the wolf. Their long, mournful-sounding howl is an iconic symbol of the wild that inspires visuals of woodlands and moonlit skies, along with that full-body chill. Unfortunately for the wolves, this primal fear reaction has inspired mass killings and loss of habitat around the world. Unfortunately for us, these keystone predators keep our ecosystems balanced and running smoothly and so, the loss of these animals has widespread implications. How can we turn this fear to a healthy respect and admiration that doesn't have a negative impact? Education programs along with targeted breeding and reintroduction efforts are a good start.

As one of the most genetically unique species in North America, today's population of Mexican gray wolves (or "lobos") stems from seven individuals that survived the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's eradication campaign from 1915 to 1973. This lack of genetic diversity is what makes them so unique and also what makes their survival so perilous. Once found throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico, the Mexican gray wolf is now one of the most endangered species in North America with only a little over 100 animals surviving in the wild. Because of these factors, education and reintroduction programs are vital for the continuation of this species in the wild. Fortunately, there are organizations working hard to bring them back from the brink of extinction and reintroduce them to their natural homes, positively impacting those ecosystems.

The Wolf Conservation Center, founded in 1996 by Helene Grimaud, focuses on conserving this species through education and Species Survival Plan actions. The Species Survival Plan program, developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums in the 1980s, aims to manage genetic diversity and conserve endangered animals through targeted captive breeding efforts. These methods have boosted reintroduction programs and have assisted the comeback of animals such as the black-footed ferret and California condor. From their first three wolves, the center now hosts four ambassador wolves with a total of 14 wolves currently being housed at the center, some hoping to be reintroduced to their natural homes.

Moving away from their former eradication campaign, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now working to reintroduce Mexican gray wolves to portions of their historic range. Four wolves from the Wolf Conservation Center have been chosen for this reintroduction program. Their recovery is not without obstacles, however, with powerful lobbyists from the hunting and ranching communities influencing decisions such as low population size restrictions. Organizations like the Wolf Conservation Center, Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice are currently suing the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure there are stronger protocols for wolf protection in accordance with the Endangered Species Act. Much more must be done to ensure these keystone predators are secure in the wild.

Lobo Week is a celebration of these reintroduction efforts, marking the 20th anniversary of the release of 11 wolves to the Blue Range Recovery Area of Arizona and New Mexico. Starting March 25th, those passionate about wolf conservation – zoos, advocacy groups, individuals, and more – are coming together to raise awareness for this unique species. By using #LoboWeek, you can see fun facts, what special events are being organized by Lobo Week partners, learn how to contribute to the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, and help spread this important conservation message. With our combined efforts, we can ensure the call of these beautiful creatures remains heard for generations to come.

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Check out our 360º video captured in Belle's enclosure where she lives with her four pups. We bit off more than we could chew when these cheeky wolves tested our camera to it's limits. Lesson learnt - don't underestimate an apex predator!
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