EVANSVILLE — Valentine’s Day is for lovers. It’s also nearly the peak of breeding season for the Mexican Gray Wolf, an endangered species represented at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden by Nagual, a male, and an unnamed female.
But there’ll be no romantic holiday for the pair on Feb. 14 — Mesker officials continue to keep them separated as the wolves prepare to become foster parents, awaiting the birth of pups by an older wolf in New York which has had trouble with her litters after being moved from California.
“She is failing with her pups,” said Susan Lindsey, an animal curator at Mesker. “They are dying very quickly. Those pups could have failed for any given reason.”
Now, Lindsey said, “we won’t know until April or May if the female’s pregnant.”
If the New York wolf eventually gives birth, officials there will remove her pups and they will be placed with the wolves here.
“All we have to do is wait for the stars to align,” Lindsey said.
Successful conception and productive parenting are crucial for the species, which continues a slow comeback from the late 1970s when only seven Mexican Gray Wolves — only one on which was female — were alive in the United States.
Today the population stands at about 350, with 300 in captivity and the remainder in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.
Breeding can be difficult. Lindsey said wolves have more difficulty with artificial stimulation than dogs. In May 2005, the male Mesker wolf, Nagual was born as the result of one of the first successful examples of nonsurgical artificial inseminations, Lindsey said.
“(Nagual experienced) good parenting,” Lindsey said. “When we decided for him to be a foster dad, he was quite good a little nervous but good.”
Linsey has worked with fostering pups several times, including when Nagual was fostered, she said. Because of her background, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to loan the Mexican Gray Wolf couple to Mesker Park Zoo. They arrived here in November from Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro, N.M.
Maggie Dwire, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf Recovery assistant coordinator, said Mexican Gray Wolves tend to live in the forested mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.
“Most people think they are desert dwelling animals, but they live at a high elevation,” Dwire said.
She said even though they usually live in colder temperatures, captive Mexican Gray Wolves “adjust fine” to warmer weather.
Mesker Zoo can use misters to keep the wolves cool during the summer months.
Dwire said, though, the Fish and Wildlife discourages zoos to interact with the wolves because they do not want the wolves to become dependent upon humans in case they are released into the wild.
Even though it is unlikely the hopeful pups will be released in the wild because they are genetically valuable, their future offspring could be.
Two wolves have been released from captivity since 2006 — one in 2008 and the most recent in January 2013.