Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery: A Binational Effort

As evidenced by its common name, the Mexican gray wolf is native to northern Mexico as well as to southern Arizona and New Mexico. Early this summer, U.S. and Mexican authorities signed an important agreement to continue their collaborations to conserve, manage, and recover this endangered animal.

The Mexican gray wolf is a subspecies of gray wolf, and like other top predators, helps to keep food webs in balance, for example by keeping deer populations in check. Due to conflicts with ranchers, they were hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction by the mid-1970’s. Since then, recovery efforts in the U.S. and Mexico have been helping to slowly grow the wild population, with an estimated 196 in the U.S. and 40 in Mexico today. Ecologists estimate that they once numbered in the thousands, and roamed over a larger range, but wildlife agencies are aiming for a stable population of 320 wolves in the 4.4 million acre Blue Range Wolf Recovery area in southeast AZ and southwest NM.

The Role of Zoos and the Desert Museum

By the 1970’s all known Mexican wolves were in the care of zoos and other wildlife facilities in the U.S. and Mexico. Two of these wolves came to the Desert Museum in 1959 and 1960. They founded what is known as the Ghost Ranch lineage, one of the three lineages of Mexican gray wolves alive today. In 1978, a few remaining wild wolves were collected and came to be known as the McBride Lineage, for Roy McBride, the hunter who captured them. A third lineage, known as Aragon, was originally bred at the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City. All Mexican wolves today are descended from seven unrelated founders of these three lineages.

Why Ghost Ranch?

The Museum’s co-founder, Arthur Pack, was also the former owner of Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu, New Mexico, seven acres of which he sold to Georgia O’Keeffe. Pack also built the Ghost Ranch Lodge on Miracle Mile. The iconic cow skull sign is an O’Keeffe design.

The Desert Museum no longer participates in the captive breeding program, but provides a home for post-breeding wolves who help us educate our visitors about wolves’ role in the ecosystem, and efforts to restore them to the landscape. The Museum is currently raising funds for a greatly expanded Mexican gray wolf exhibit (the Woodin Memorial Fund).

Into the Wild

Although the wolves were declared endangered in 1976, it took decades of planning and community consultations before they could be released again to the wild. Potential for conflict with cattle is ever-present, though incidents are rare. The Desert Museum and other zoos helped to educate the public and policy makers about the benefits of restoring wolves to our ecosystems, testifying at commissions and public meetings, and helped to lay the groundwork for eventual reintroduction of eleven wolves in 1998.

Mexican gray wolf. Photo by Jay Pierstorff.

Multi-agency Cross-border Partnership

The U.S. and Mexico have collaborated on Mexican gray wolf recovery since its listing under the Endangered Species Act in 1976. The Letter of Intent to continue cooperation was signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources through its National Commission for Natural Protected Areas and the Directorate General for Wildlife in Mexico. The Mexican gray wolf is just one of many species in the borderlands that rely on habitat in both countries, the ability to move between them, and international cooperation to survive.

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