SOUTH SALEM, New York (June 3, 2016) – Under the cloak of darkness on an unseasonable warm night, Mexican gray wolf F1226 (affectionately nicknamed Belle by supporters) gave birth to a litter of three pups. The newborns announced their arrival shortly before midnight on May 25th with distinct peeps, squeaks and mews broadcast to a global audience of well-wishers via the Center’s webcams. Over 300,000 people tuned in to the webcam on what seemed an unreasonably long and suspenseful day, and breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the unmistakable wolf pup whines. The pups had finally arrived.
The birthday didn’t come as a surprise. Watching the remote webcams, WCC staff picked up on telltale clues that F1226 would soon give birth. Her round belly was plucked bare (a custom for expectant mothers when preparing for pups) and for days F1226 was in and out of her den making last minute alterations. The morning of May 24th F1226 retreated to her den with no intention of leaving until her pups were born. She was in labor some of that night and most of the following day, and unbeknownst to the mother-to-be, she wasn’t alone. Via a webcam installed in her den, people from all over the world were wishing her well, monitoring her contractions, biting their nails, and expressing concern.
While F1126 was hard at work, WCC staff kept close contact with the Center’s team of doctors – all fantastic veterinarians who volunteer their time and services. Under their guidance, the team decided to intervene by mid-afternoon. Joined by Renee Bayha DVM, the WCC examined F1226, gave her a shot of calcium to help her along, and hydrated the exhausted mom-to-be with subcutaneous (SQ) fluids (fluids administered into the space under the skin from where it can be slowly absorbed into the blood and body to prevent dehydration). The team released F1226 back into her enclosure by early evening and was forced to watch, wait, and listen with everybody else until the pups announced their debut shortly before midnight.
Nine days later, during the pups’ first health check on June 3, WCC staff confirmed the top-notch pup-rearing skills of the first-time parents finding the robust trio (two boys and one girl) as healthy as can be. Soon the pups will be assigned alphanumeric “names” like their wild counterparts, but in appreciation of the amazing support and commitment of veterinarians that support the Center’s efforts (Charlie Duffy, Paul Maus, Kim Khodakhah, and Renee Bayha), the WCC team fondly nicknamed the pups “Duffy,” “Maus,” and “K.B.” “The strength of the Wolf is the Pack, and in the spirit of teamwork all four of our lead doctors had a hand in helping F1226 safely deliver her pups. We’re truly blessed to have them.” stated WCC curator Rebecca Bose.
The health check took only a few minutes and was broadcast live via Facebook’s new livestream application to allow the public to behold the pups in real time and give them an understanding of the importance of the litter as it relates to endangered species recovery. “Each pup weighed just over a pound,” explained WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell, “but their significance is weighty. The pocket-size predators represent our active participation in an effort to save their species on the brink of extinction.”
MEXICAN WOLF RECOVERY
The WCC is one of 54 facilities in the U.S. and Mexico participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan – a bi-national initiative whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of Mexican wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.
Because the entire existing Mexican wolf population descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction, genetic health is the primary consideration governing not only reproductive pairings, but also captive-to-wild release efforts. Although both components are equally critical to Mexican wolf recovery, release events are far less frequent than successful breeding.
“Unfortunately state politics have too often blocked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) release efforts,” explained Howell, “so wolves essential to the genetic health of the wild population remain in captivity. The Service has a responsibility under federal law to facilitate recovery of the critically endangered species and releases are a central part of that effort.”
In recent positive steps toward recovery, FWS has forged ahead despite political opposition by ushering captive wolves into the wild through its pup-fostering initiative. Pup-fostering is a coordinated event where captive-born pups are introduced into a similar-aged wild litter so the pups can grow up as wild wolves. “Pup-fostering is an incredibly effective tool for augmenting the genetic health of the wild population,” explained Bose, “it proved extremely successful in red wolf recovery efforts for over a decade.”
Despite the scientific merit and success of cross-fostering events, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish filed an intent to sue FWS over the agencies release efforts in the state. The state also requested a Temporary Restraining Order to not only block all upcoming releases, but to also to remove the pups who were successfully fostered in April, in other words, take the pups away from the only families they have ever known.
The new wolf parents and pups are not on public exhibit, but thirteen live webcams, available on the WCC website, invite an unlimited number of viewers to enter the private lives of these elusive creatures.
The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) or “lobo” is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America. By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity. In 1998 the wolves were reintroduced into the wild as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. Today in the U.S., there is a single wild population comprising only 97 individuals – a decrease from 110 counted at the end of 2014.