Mexican officials announced the sighting of the first known litter of Mexican gray wolf pups born in the wild, culminating a three-year initiative to help the endangered subspecies recover its habitat.
Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas said Thursday that a team of researchers spotted the five young wolves in June in the western Sierra Madre mountains. In a statement, the commission said the pups are considered the first documented birth of gray wolves in the wild since the species was driven to extinction in the 1970s. The wild gray wolf is considered officially extinct in Mexico.
In a statement, the commission said that “this first litter represents an important step in the recovery program,” because the wild pups have never had contact with humans, unlike wolves bred and raised in captivity. The statement added that the pups appeared to be in good health.
The Mexican gray wolf has been dangerously close to extinction for several decades. The species was almost entirely wiped out in Mexico and the southwestern United States in the 20th century, primarily because of people who hunted, trapped and poisoned wild wolves.
Since 2007, the commission’s Endangered Species Conservation Program has been coordinating efforts to recover the wolves’ natural habitat, and began reintroducing wolves into the wild in 2011. The pups’ parents had been released together in December 2013, with researchers optimistic they would be able to reproduce.
In May, the joint monitoring team from the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro and the commission took a photograph of the female wolf that showed she was lactating — a strong indication that pups had been born. The team confirmed the existence of the five healthy pups in a follow-up expedition to the habitat in June.
The commission did not respond to requests about how many wolves now live in the wild in Mexico.