Thursday, May 05, 2016

Wolf pups from St. Louis get new mother, new home in New Mexico

With 9-day-old pups tucked securely in a special backpack, Regina Mossotti hiked into the mountains in New Mexico to say goodbye to the newborns who were about to make history — and possibly a difference in the survival of their critically endangered species. The Mexican wolves, born April 15 at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, had flown with Mossotti and another helper more than 1,000 miles for their mission. The wolves, named Vida and Lindbergh, represent hope for a species with fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild. The mission: Take the pups from their biological mother and siblings from their home in captivity in Eureka and "cross-foster" them with a surrogate mother in the wild who had given birth around the same time. Cross-fostering can help the Mexican wolves survive by increasing the genetic diversity of the wild population. The nine-day-old Mexican wolf pups were moved from the more genetically diverse captive population and will contribute to the gene diversity of the wild population if they survive to become breeding adults. But for it to work, there was a lot that had to line up. Placing captive born pups into wild dens had never been tried before with Mexican wolves. First, there was the timing. The wild and captive litters need to be born around the same time, and the transfer of pups from captivity to the wild has to occur before the pups are 10 days old, experts say. This makes the transfer easier for the pups, who still have their eyes closed and, much like other newborns, spend most of their time sleeping and eating. Then, there were the logistics. The wild den location needs to be known, a flight needs to be scheduled and weather conditions should be perfect. The Endangered Wolf Center worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effort. In New Mexico, a female wolf that was tracked with a GPS collar had stopped roaming like wolves do most of the time, and was staying in one location and then disappeared — a good indicator that she had gone done down in the den and the satellite signal was no longer working. This was a clue to the Fish and Wildlife Service that she had given birth...more

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