The Mexican gray wolf is a subspecies of the gray wolf. Commonly referred to as "El lobo," this wolf is gray with light brown fur on its back. Its long legs and sleek body enable it to run fast. Though they once numbered in the thousands, these wolves were wiped out in the U.S. by the mid-1970s, with just a handful existing in zoos. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, led by Jamie Rappaport Clark (now president of Defenders of Wildlife), released 11 Mexican gray wolves back into the wild in Arizona. Although their numbers have grown slowly, and they remain the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world.
© Jim Clark / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The 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—a type of peccary —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.
Mexican wolves mostly eat ungulates (large hoofed mammals) like elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer. They are also known to eat smaller mammals like javelinas, rabbits, ground squirrels and mice.
Did You Know?
Mexican gray wolves are not necessarily gray. In fact, their fur is a mix of gray, rust, black and cream.
After being wiped out in the U.S. and with only a few animals remaining in Mexico, Mexican gray wolves were bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild in Arizona beginning in 1998. There are only about 300 Mexican wolves total in captivity. The goal of the reintroduction program was to restore at least 100 wolves to the wild by 2006, and it will take many more than that before the lobo is safe from extinction. Unfortunately, at the end of 2012 there were still only approximately 75 wild wolves.
Range & Habitat
Mexican gray wolves prefer mountain forests, grasslands and scrublands. They once ranged widely from central Mexico throughout the southwestern U.S. Today, the Mexican wolf has been reintroduced to the Apache National Forest in southeastern Arizona, and may move into the adjacent Gila National Forest in western New Mexico as the population expands. Recently, Mexican wolves have also begun to be reintroduced in Mexico.
Did You Know?
The Mexican gray wolf is about half the size of its cousin, the North American gray wolf.
Mexican gray wolves are very social animals. They live in packs, which are complex social structures that include the breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their offspring. A hierarchy of dominant and subordinate animals within the pack help it to work as a unit.
Pups are born blind and defenseless. The pack cares for the pups until they mature at about 10 months of age.
Mating Season: Mid February - mid March
Gestation: 63 days
Litter size: 4 - 7 pups