The Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is a subspecies of the Gray Wolf. It is native to North America, where it is the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies.
The Mexican Wolf is the smallest Gray Wolf subspecies present in North America. Reaching an overall length no greater than 1.2–1.5 metres (3.9–4.9 ft) and a maximum height of about 80 centimetres (31 in), it is around the size of a German Shepherd. Weight ranges from 27–37 kilograms (60–82 lb). In stature, it resembles some European wolves, though its head is usually broader, its neck thicker, its ears longer and its tail shorter.
Former range and extirpation
Until recent times, the Mexican Wolf ranged the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts from central Mexico to western Texas, southern New Mexico, and central Arizona. By the turn of the 20th century, reduction of natural prey like deer and elk caused many wolves to begin attacking domestic livestock, which led to intensive efforts by government agencies and individuals to eradicate the Mexican Wolf. Hunters also hunted down the wolf because it killed deer. Trappers and private trappers have also helped in the eradication of the Mexican Wolf. (Note that recent studies completed by genetics experts show evidence of Mexican Wolves ranging as far north as Colorado). These efforts were very successful, and by the 1950s, the Mexican Wolf had been eliminated from the wild. In 1976, the Mexican Wolf was declared an endangered subspecies and has remained so ever since. Today, an estimated 340 Mexican Wolves survive in 49 facilities at the United States and Mexico.
Reintroduction to the Southwest
In 1997, controversy arose when a captive pack at Carlsbad Caverns National Park designated for release was found by Roy McBride, who had captured many wolves for the recovery program in the 1970s, to be largely composed of wolf-dog hybrids. Though staff initially argued that the animals' odd appearance was due to captivity and diet, it was later decided to euthanise them.
In March 1998, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began reintroducing Mexican Wolves into the Blue Range area of Arizona. The overall objective of this program was to reestablish 100 Mexican Wolves in the Apache and Gila National Forests of Arizona and New Mexico by 2008.
On March 30, 1998, government biologists released 11 gray wolves – 3 adult males, 3 adult females, 3 female pups and yearlings and 2 male pups — from 3 chain-link acclimation pens within the 18,130 square kilometres (7,000 sq mi), federally designated Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in east-central Arizona.
A population count completed by the Interagency Field Team (IFT) in the winter of 2006–2007 estimated 60 wolves living in the recovery area in several packs. The population goal for 2006 was 100 wolves. In early 2011 there were only two breeding pairs and the population count was 50, up from 42 in the early 2010 count. As of February 2012, the number of breeding pairs rose to six with a total population count of 58, including 32 wolves in six packs on the Arizona side of the recovery area and 26 wolves in six packs on the New Mexico side. There were 18 pups born in 2011 that survived through Dec. 31, 2011. Nine wolves died in 2011, two were shot illegally.
In February 2010, three captive Mexican Wolves living in the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota, escaped from their pen after it was pried open by unknown individuals. Two of the wolves came back on their own the next day; the third wolf, the alpha of the pack, had to be chased down in suburban areas until captured.