EUREKA • An endangered Mexican wolf gave birth this month to what conservationists say is the first such pup born using previously frozen sperm and artificial insemination.
The wolf was born April 2 at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, using semen collected last year by St. Louis Zoo research and animal health staff and stored at the zoo’s cryopreservation gene bank. A University of California-Davis professor and veterinary doctor administered the insemination Jan. 27 with assistance from zoo animal health staff.
Endangered Wolf Center spokeswoman Regina Mossotti said the wolf pup received its first health checkup Monday and was in good shape. The pup weighs about 5 pounds and will grow to be between 60 and 70 pounds.
Conservationists say the birth means artificial insemination can be used more with the endangered species not only to increase their numbers but also for genetic diversity, which is key in developing healthier and more viable pups.
“Reproductive technologies, such as frozen semen and artificial insemination, were developed to support gene diversity by allowing reproduction between genetically valuable individuals at different locations and even after natural death of a male,” according to a joint news release from the Endangered Wolf Center, St. Louis Zoo and the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Palm Desert, Calif.
Mossotti said conservationists have spent 20 years collecting wolf semen in anticipation of one day having the technology to artificially inseminate endangered females.
“We knew one day we would figure out how to inseminate Mexican wolves with frozen semen,” Mossotti said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan were also part of the project.
The Mexican wolf was eliminated from the wild in the United States in the 1970s and from Mexico in the 1980s.
Once the captive population grew large enough, the Fish & Wildlife Service launched a reintroduction program in 1998 with the release of 11 Mexican wolves into the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Nine of the 11 came from the Endangered Wolf Center. Now, Mexican wolves are found in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.
In addition, there are approximately 250 captive wolves in the care of more than 50 institutions in the United States and Mexico.
Gene banks at the St. Louis Zoo and the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico currently store genetic materials from more than 200 male and female Mexican wolves, according to the Endangered Wolf Center.
The pup does not have a name. The center has a fund for naming pups, established by longtime supporter and famed actor Betty White, through which donors can contribute $2,500 to name pups born at the center.
Mexican wolf born using frozen sperm offers new hope for endangered species
A Mexican wolf born this month at a wildlife centre in suburban St. Louis is offering new hope for repopulating the endangered species through artificial insemination using frozen sperm.
The Mexican wolf population once roamed Mexico and the western U.S. in the thousands but was nearly wiped out by the 1970s, largely from decades of hunting, trapping and poisoning.
Commonly known as "El Lobos," the species, distinguished by a smaller, more narrow skull and its grey and brown colouring, was designated an endangered species in 1976.
Even today, only 130 Mexican wolves live in the wild and another 220 live in captivity, including 20 at the Endangered Wolf Centre in Eureka,
Missouri. A litter of Mexican wolves was conceived by artificial insemination in Mexico in 2014. But the birth on April 2 at the Missouri center was the first-ever for the breed using frozen semen.