Once driven to the brink of extinction, Mexican gray wolves have slowly returned to the U.S. Southwest. For the first time since their reintroduction more than two decades ago, their numbers total more than 200, according to federal officials.
“This milestone has been 25 years in the making,” Brady McGee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, said in a statement. “In 2022, we recorded more packs, more breeding pairs, and a growing occupied range, proving we are on the path to recovery.”
Starting in November, wildlife managers tracked radio-collared wolves, deployed remote cameras, collected scat, and undertook ground and aerial surveys, counting at least 241 wolves in all. Wolf numbers are up 23 percent over last year and are double what they were in 2017.
Mexican gray wolves once numbered in the thousands in the Southwest, but as ranchers and federal agents hunted, trapped, or poisoned wolves that posed a potential threat to livestock, the beasts disappeared from the wild. In 1977, officials in the U.S. and Mexico began breeding the seven wolves that remained, and in 1998, U.S. wildlife managers reintroduced wolves to the wild.
While wolves are on the rebound, their genetic diversity remains low, posing a threat to their continued recovery, conservationists say. “The growth in the number of the Mexican gray wolf population offers hope for the species, but more needs to be done to ensure its long-term viability,” Bryan Bird of Defenders of Wildlife Southwest said in a statement. “This is not simply a numbers game. The Mexican gray wolf population still struggles with inbreeding and being constrained to a small geographic portion of its potential range.”