The Mexican gray wolf is a critically endangered, native species that once numbered in the thousands of animals throughout southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. Its restoration is an opportunity to bring a natural balance and fully functioning ecosystem back to the wild lands of the Southwest. Read on to learn more about the lives of Mexican gray wolves, their tragic history and near-extinction, their role as a top-of-the-food-chain carnivore and their present constricted range.
The Lobo Life
The Mexican gray wolf, or “lobo,” roamed throughout southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas until about the 1930’s, with a few individuals coming across the southern border until about 1970, and south into northern Mexico until the 1980’s. According to the Interagency Field Team’s 2018 year-end count, 131 wolves now roam the wild headwaters of the Gila River in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
Mexican gray wolves are smaller than their relatives to the north—the gray wolves that roam the northern Rocky Mountains and Midwest. Weighing in at 50 to 85 pounds, Mexican wolves are about the size of a German shepherd and are the smallest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America.
Lobos have a keen sense of smell, excellent hearing and highly sensitive vision. They are intelligent, family-oriented animals who live in family packs and maintain home ranges-or territories. They communicate through howling, body language and scent marking.
Lobos kill and eat a variety of prey, including elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and javelina. Mexican wolves are opportunistic, and will scavenge dead elk and deer, cattle carcasses and hunter gut piles during hunting season. They occasionally prey on livestock, and wildlife biologists believe this behavior could be exacerbated by scavenging on livestock carcasses that die from various causes.
Mexican wolf packs are generally fairly small, consisting of an adult alpha pair, a yearling or two, and pups of the year. Social cohesion in the pack is strong. Adults are very tolerant of the growing pups, feeding them meat brought back from kills. Pups establish a dominance hierarchy and learn hunting behavior through play.
About 8 to 10 weeks after birth, pups are moved from the den site to a rendezvous site, where they remain while the adults hunt. A pack member often stays behind to “babysit” the pups.
Prehistorically, wolf populations were likely stable and limited by the numbers of vulnerable prey animals. Human-caused mortality caused the near extinction of Mexican wolves and remains the primary reason they are still critically endangered today.