ALBUQUERQUE– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its conservation partners last Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the introduction of Mexican wolves back in the wild. Just 20 years ago Mexican wolves were extinct in the wild in the U.S., with only 184 wolves remaining in captivity in the U.S. and Mexico. Due to conservation efforts of Service and partners, the wolf has gone from the brink of extinction to at least 114 wolves in the wild in the U.S and 30 in Mexico.

On March 29, 1998, 11 Mexican wolves were released back into the wild, following its extinction in the wild in the late 1970s. Today, due to the efforts the Service and partnerships with Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico and others, the Mexican wolf population is at least 114 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Mexico is also committed to the wolf’s recovery. They began releasing wolves back into the wild in 2011, and there are an additional 30 wolves there.

“The twentieth anniversary of the release of the Mexican wolves back into the wild is more than an important milestone for the Service and our partners,” said Amy Lueders, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director. “Our decades-long partnerships with states, tribes, landowners, the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, and others demonstrates a commitment to the challenges ahead and the shared goal of fully recovering the Mexican wolf."

Following the listing of the Mexican wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, a binational captive-breeding program, known as the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan, was launched between the U.S. and Mexico. Some of the last remaining Mexican wolves in the wild in Mexico were captured for the program, with the addition of captive wolves in Mexico and the U.S. In total, seven founding Mexican wolves and generations of their offspring have helped build a captive population that maintains approximately 280 wolves at more than 50 facilities in the U.S. and Mexico. These wolves are the source for establishing the wild populations and improving the gene diversity.

The first 11 Mexican wolves were released into the wild into the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona on March 29, 1998. Those wolves and subsequent releases and their offspring now number at least 114 in the U.S. This population serves as a cornerstone for recovery of the Mexican wolf.

In 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Service expanded the experimental population area within which Mexican wolves can occupy and be released to enable the population to more fully contribute to recovery.

In November 2017, the Service completed a revision of its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan based on the best available information on the biology.

and conservation needs of the Mexican wolf. This revised plan provides measurable, science-based and objective criteria for successful recovery of the wolf within its historical range. These criteria will guide the Service in recovering and delisting the Mexican wolf from the ESA, at which time its management will be turned over to the appropriate states and tribes.

Partners in the effort to recover Mexican wolves include the Service and its partners in Mexico, Arizona Game and Fish Department, White Mountain Apache Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service –Wildlife Services, participating counties, and the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan.