COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Not only did the Mexican wolf pack at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo just get a little bigger, but the fate of the species as a whole is now a bit brighter.
The zoo announced Tuesday morning that one of their wolves, named Luna, had given birth at 5:10 a.m. Friday. The puppy appears strong, the zoo said, and Luna is acting maternal.
Rocky Mountain Wild Animal Manager Dina Bredahl said the puppy is “very squirmy and snuggly with Luna” and has already grown since Friday, which is a good sign. It was born with dark fur, like all Mexican wolves, but will grow up to have sandy, gray fur.
The Rocky Mountain Wild animal care team wasn’t sure how many puppies Luna was carrying, but after watching her for 24 hours after the first puppy was born, determined there was just one. The newborn is now part of an existing pack made of its mother, father Navarro, and its four 1-year-old siblings: Bluestem, Hope, Shadow and Phoenix.
Bredahl said they don’t see a need to separate the older pups from the newborn, as wolf packs stay together in the wild when new litters join the pack.
“It’s a win-win for all,” she said. “The yearlings get to observe Luna with a young pup, which helps them gain experience they can use if they become parents later in life. The single pup benefits because it has a larger pack to learn from and bond with, instead of just its two parents.”
Each new Mexican wolf in the world is one more step toward saving the species, since the population is so small, she said. Currently, there are only 131 wild Mexican wolves and about 300 in human care. The species thrived through central Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas until the 1900s. By the 1950s, the species was almost completely eradicated. It was declared an endangered species when the Endangered Species Act went into effect in 1973 and their numbers have been increasing thanks to captive breeding programs.
This puppy at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo could go on to help repopulate the species in the wild.
“Even in human care, we rarely intervene with wolves, so we’re cautiously optimistic that this pup will grow into a healthy adult that can contribute to the long-term survival of Mexican wolves,” Bredahl said.
For the time being, Luna is caring for the puppy in an underground den in the wolf exhibit. A camera mounted inside the den allows guests to see live footage of the mom and baby.
The zoo housed a bachelor pack of wolves for many years, but more recently, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan placed various breeding pairs at the zoo with hopes of offspring. Until Luna and Navarro, they hadn’t had any luck.
Once the younger wolves are older, they could be released to help provide genetic diversity in the wild.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has been a participant in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, which is run by U.S. Fish & Wildlife, since 1994. To learn more about Mexican wolves, visit the zoo's website here.