February 28, 2023

Mexican wolf numbers reach highest levels since reintroduction efforts began

Robin Silver/Center for Biological Diversity

More than 200 Mexican wolves are now roaming free in Arizona and New Mexico.

The annual wolf count conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented 241 wolves.

This is the first time there have been more than 200 wolves documented since the reintroduction efforts began.

“This milestone has been 25 years in the making,” Brady McGee, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator, said in a press release. “To go from zero wild Mexican wolves at the start to 241 today is truly remarkable. In 2022, we recorded more packs, more breeding pairs, and a growing occupied range, proving we are on the path to recovery. These achievements are a testament to partner-driven conservation in the west.”

Researchers counted  136 of the wolves in New Mexico. 

An interagency field team gathers population information from November through February using various methods including ground and aerial surveys, remote cameras, scat collection and visual observation. 

The population count that occurs at the end of each year allows wildlife managers to compile comparable year-to-year trends during a time when the population is most stable, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of the wolves, 109 of them have radio collars.

There are at least 59 documented packs, including 40 in New Mexico. A pack consists of at least two wolves that have an established home range.

At least 121 wolf pups were born in 2022 and at least 81 of those survived until the end of the year. There are at least 31 breeding pairs of wolves, with 20 of those living in New Mexico. These pairs had at least one pup survive through Dec. 31.

Eleven captive-born wolf pups were placed in wild dens in 2022 and two of those are known to have survived.

The interagency field team also documented the lowest wolf mortality rate since 2017, with a dozen documented mortalities. Six of those wolves died in New Mexico.

When the Black Fire burned through the Gila area, the Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily relocated seven captive wolves from their enclosures at the Ladder Ranch Wolf Management Facility to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility. Those wolves have now been returned to Ladder Ranch.

Conservation groups like WildEarth Guardians cheered the increase in wolf population, but warned that more efforts are needed to protect them.

“This count marks the progress of the last 25 years since wolves were first re-introduced, but there are serious warning signs pointing to a fragile population and inadequate recovery efforts,” Chris Smith, southwest wildlife advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “We should celebrate that there are 241 lobos, but we will remain vigilant in advocating for their restoration.”