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El Paso Zoo Wolf part of Effort to Revitalize Species

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Fern, one of three female Mexican gray wolves at the El Paso Zoo, is playing a significant role in an international effort to save her species from extinction.

She arrived at Wolf Haven International in Tenino, Wash., on Monday and soon will be bred with a male wolf.

“This is one of the rarest animals on earth,” said Rick LoBello, education curator at the El Paso Zoo. “There are less than 40 of them left in the wild.”

The El Paso Zoo is now left with Fern’s two younger sisters — Ivy and Dash.

Monday morning, Fern — who was born at the Columbus Zoo on May 9, 2002, and came to El Paso on Nov. 19, 2004 — traveled to Truth or Consequences, N.M., to meet with a 5-year-old female Mexican gray wolf from Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood, N.M., near Santa Fe.

The two wolves were then flown to Wolf Haven.

Fern, an 8-year-old Mexican gray wolf, was sent to the Wolf Haven International breeding facility in Washington state to help increase the species’ numbers. There are fewer than 40 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild. Fern’s two sisters will remain at the El Paso Zoo. (Ruben R. Ramirez / El Paso Times)

One of the wolves will be bred with one of the sanctuary’s resident Mexican gray wolves in the spring with the hope of producing pups in 2011.

“This is one of only three pre-released breeding facilities, so wolves who go to this facility are candidates to be either released in the wild or for their progeny to be released in the wild,” LoBello said. “She is female so chances are she can successfully raise puppies and then the question becomes can she and her puppies be eventually released into the wild?”

Fern was selected for the Wolf Haven breeding facility by a panel of animal experts.

“Each endangered species has a species survival plan,” LoBello said.

“The committee gets together on a regular basis and reviews the entire zoo populations and they are selected for re-introduction in the wild based on the genetics of the animal, the age, the sex and the animal’s behavior.”

Over the past 16 years, Wolf Haven International has produced five litters of Mexican gray pups and released two packs (11 wolves) into the wild.

Some of the first Mexican wolves released back into the wild after a 30-year absence came from Wolf Haven International.

In 1976 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Mexican gray wolf was extremely rare.

But given the political climate in Arizona and New Mexico, where most of the gray wolves live, they are not out of the woods yet.

“It’s very possible that this species could go extinct in the wild for the second time,” LoBello said. “Some of the people who live in the areas where the wolves are being reintroduced do not appreciate this project.”

He said some hunters object to the gray wolves because they view the animals as competitors for game.

“The wolves kill deer and elk to survive and that’s what hunters like to kill, too,” he said. “And they do conflict with livestock in the area so not everybody agrees with this effort even if it is being done on public lands.”

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