Mexican Gray Wolves 101

Once numbering in the thousands, Mexican gray wolves, or lobos, widely roamed the wilds of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico.  But by the mid-1970s, after a century of persecution, lobos were wiped out in the United States. Fortunately, a few survived in Mexico and in zoos, and scientists were able to bring lobos back from the brink through captive breeding.

In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led by Jamie Rappaport Clark (now president of Defenders of Wildlife) released 11 Mexican wolves back into the wild in Arizona. But their numbers have grown slowly, and they still remain the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the entire world.

Why They’re Important

El lobo was once “top dog” in the borderlands, and when the wolf population returns to healthy numbers, biologists believe that lobos will restore balance to the Southwest’s ecosystems by keeping deer, elk and javelina—or wild pig—populations healthy and in check. Wolves strengthen these animals by preying on the old, sick and young, and prevent their populations from growing so numerous that they overgraze and destroy habitat that countless other species depend on.

Major Threats

Misconceptions and myths are the biggest problems for lobos. Despite the facts that Mexican gray wolves are responsible for less than one percent of livestock deaths each year and have never attacked a person, they are often resented and feared in communities near the recovery area in southern Arizona and New Mexico. While a majority of people in those states support wolf recovery, illegal killings continue to be the leading cause of death for lobos. The small population is also threatened by inbreeding, catastrophic events like diseases and fires, and by the lack of a scientifically sound plan for their expansion and recovery.  

What Defenders Is Doing to Help Mexican Gray Wolves

For many years Defenders of Wildlife has been working with ranchers to minimize conflict between livestock and wolves. We also serve on the Interdiction Stakeholder Council, a pilot effort to help promote these kinds of coexistence efforts. Our work with the White Mountain Apache tribe on ecotourism helps create ecomonic opportunities tied to healthy wolf populations. 

Defenders serves on the federal recovery team for Mexican gray wolves and we promote federal, state and local policies that help wolves recover.  And we sponsor many events to educate the public and get them involved in efforts to help save lobos.

More on Mexican Gray Wolf: Background and Recovery »

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Press Release
"While the increase comes as good news for these highly endangered animals, the small population of 58 lobos is still extremely vulnerable. Wolves are smart, adaptable animals, but they can’t make it alone. New releases of wolves in Arizona and New Mexico are urgently needed to ensure a healthy population." - Eva Sargent, southwest director, Defenders of Wildlife
Where We Work
Our Southwest team works to protect rare and threatened species like Mexican wolves, jaguars and ocelots.
Fact Sheet
Mexican gray wolves once numbered in the thousands and roamed the wilds of the southwest. But today, after a century of persecution, only a few remain in the wild.
In the Magazine
Though the number of Mexican gray wolves in the wild is slightly higher, the population still needs a genetic rescue to survive.
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