Big Dreams for Little Mexican Gray Wolf Pups

Their species is nearly extinct but advocates hope they help boost numbers.

ByABC News
July 1, 2010, 12:33 AM

July 1, 2010 — -- It's not all fun and play for five 8-week-old puppies in St. Louis, Mo. The future of the nearly extinct Mexican gray wolf rests on their furry shoulders.

The wolf pups -- four light gray males and one female -- were introduced to the media today at the Endangered Wolf Center in St. Louis. Though they calmly sat through vaccinations and the injection of tracking microchips, their parents were a bit antsy and their center caretakers brimmed with anticipation.

"It may surprise some that five newly born wolf pups can make such a dramatic impact on the recovery of a threatened ecosystem in the western United States," said Mac Sebald, the center's executive director. "But when you start with essentially zero in the wild, these five lives make an immeasurable difference."

Of the nearly 300 Mexican grays in the world, 42 are in the wild and the rest are in captivity. That's the reason for the excitement around the new pups, who will be introduced into the wild when they are old enough, between 18 months and three years.

The Mexican gray wolf "is the most endangered gray wolf in the world," said the center's Kim Scott, director of animal care and conservation. "It is the majority of the species that we work with here."

Indigenous to the U.S. Southwest and Mexico and once known as "El Lobos," the species was designated endangered in 1976 and was considered extinct in the wild until reintroduction into New Mexico and Arizona and portions of Mexico in 1998.

Center officials say that the Mexican gray was hunted, trapped and poisoned for more than a century by ranchers and others.

"Wolves were the most prolific animal across the continent but predator control programs were starting to be put in place by the mid-1800s. We didn't really appreciate large predators and carnivores in our environment. We felt they were a threat. ... We had livestock and we had kids. We didn't think large carnivores served any purpose other than a dangerous one. There was a real methodology to just eradicating them through government programs, with bounties, very excessive no-limit trappings. We wiped out most large carnivores in this country," Scott said.