Often the first thing that morning visitors hear at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is the eerie howl of the Mexican gray wolves.
The Mexican grey wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1976 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Between the years of 1977 and 1980, five wolves were removed from the wild. A captive breeding program was created from these wolves to increase the wolf population and someday, release wolves back into the wild.
The Mexican grey wolf became a "Species Survival Plan" species in December 1993.
Currently 46 zoos and sanctuaries in the U.S. and Mexico (including Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary) participate in the recovery program.
The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary joined the Mexican Gray Wolf Species Survival Plan in 2005, when it received five wolves. Since then, wolves have come and gone and now the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is the home of two wolves. Imado arrived in 2010 and Molly arrived in 2012.
Heritage Park is used as a holding facility until wolves can be matched with a mate at another facility or released.
The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest subspecies of wolf in North America.
It once numbered in the thousands and roamed freely all over the Southwest United States.
Because of over-hunting, these wolves are now limited to a few small areas of Arizona and New Mexico. Through captive breeding and release programs as well as released wolves breeding in the wild, the wild population of these wolves is up to 75.
The Mexican gray wolf lives in small packs and preys on deer, elk and javelina. It sometimes will scavenge dead animals.
The Mexican gray wolves at Heritage Park are fed game meat consistent with what these animals would normally eat in the wild.
The Mexican gray wolves are treated differently than other animals at the sanctuary, with limited staff interaction because these animals might be released into the wild in the future.
March 29, 2013 is the 15th anniversary of the release of the first captive-born Mexican gray wolves back into the wild. Three wolves were released in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona.
Help celebrate this amazing milestone by visiting this incredible species at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, or by going online to www.mexicanwolves.org or www.heritageparkzoo.org.
(The Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary provides monthly columns about its residents to The Daily Courier.)