Sedgwick County Zoo and wildlife experts released two Mexican Wolf pups into the wild as part of an endangered species recovery plan on May 6.
Traveler, a male, and Jaunt, a female, were chosen from Sedgwick County Zoo’s family of six Mexican Wolves to be cross-fostered with a wild pack in Arizona by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Nancy Smith, senior zoo keeper.
Cross-fostering is a process where pups from one litter are placed with another litter to be raised by the mother wolf as her own to increase population size in the wild and increase genetic diversity. The process must take place within days of both sets of pups being born, according to a news release.
“To actually be conservation, a part of where you’re actually putting an animal directly in the wild, that’s a once in a lifetime experience for me,” Smith said.
Mexican wolves are considered critically endangered with fewer than 150 members of the species remaining in the wild. They are native to the southwestern United States in Arizona and New Mexico, and in Chihuahua, Mexico. Mexican wolves are currently under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to help the population recover, according to a news release.
The transfer took place on May 6, when the pups were 2 weeks old. Dr. Heather Arens, zoo specialist veterinarian, Smith, and a representative from the Endangered Wolf Center transported Traveler and Jaunt to Arizona, where they united the pups with five wild pups retrieved by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services officials.
The seven pups were examined by Arens, and then placed in a “puppy pile” to cover each other in their scent in hopes that the wild mother would care for the foster pups.
“The results of the cross-fostering effort are astounding,” Arens said in a news release. “I care for animals in the zoo every day, but this is the first time I’ve been able to directly fulfill my dream to save animals in the wild. Five-year-old Heather would be proud — we’re really making an impact.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remotely observe the pack to monitor the results of the cross-fostering, but so far the pack seems to be doing well, Smith said.
Sedgwick County Zoo currently has four Mexican Wolves: 7-year-old Angus, a male; 3-year-old Nova, a female; and 7-week-old pups Leo and Arlo, both males. The wolves can be seen at the zoo’s North American Boardwalk.
For optimal viewing hours, Smith recommended visiting the exhibit in the early hours of the day when it’s cool enough for the pups to play.