Mexican Gray Wolf Population Reaches Almost 200, With 45 Packs Recorded

The endangered Mexican gray wolf population has risen to almost 200 in the United States, with 45 packs recorded.

An annual count of the animals for 2021 showed the population has grown 5 percent from the previous year, to 196 from 186, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest subspecies of wolf in the U.S and Mexico. Today, they are only found in the grasslands and mountainous forests of Arizona and New Mexico. In particular, they are under threat from a lack of genetic diversity in the species, which means they have lower reproductive success.

The species is starting to be reintroduced into Mexico, after numbers plummeted in the country due to hunting.

An estimated 144 Mexican wolf pups were born in 2021, and wildlife officials believe at least 56 survived until the end of the year. Wolf pups are incredibly vulnerable, and according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there is about a 50 percent chance they see their second year. Their survival largely depends on the availability of prey in the area.

Mexican wolf
A picture shows two Mexican gray wolves. They are one of the rarest subspecies of wolf. JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/Getty Images

Jim deVos, Mexican wolf coordinator at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in a statement that the 5 percent increase in 2021 indicates a "recovering population."

"Overall wildlife populations had a hard year with low precipitation and little winter snowpack last year. I am encouraged by the increase in breeding pairs and the number of packs present," he said. "These measures continue to increase and bode well for future recovery for the Mexican wolf."

However, conservation experts are concerned as, despite the increase in numbers, the growth in numbers is slowing.

In 2020, a total of 186 wolves were counted across the two states. Some conservation groups believe that 196 recorded in 2021 represents not enough of an increase to recover the population. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service put the slowed increase down to "low pup recruitment in the wild population."

A statement released by nonprofit endangered species protection organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, said the slowed increase in population is down to "illegal killings, disease, and genetic mismanagement."

Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement "it's worrisome" that so little is known on why Mexican wolf population growth is slowing.

"I'm concerned that high pup mortality is part of the problem. Rather than putting pups into unrelated wolves' dens, moms, dads and pups should all begin new lives in the wild together," he said.

Robinson is referring to a program initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase the population numbers, where captive-born pups are placed with unrelated wolves in the wild, in an attempt to restore a lost genetic diversity in the species.

The Center for Biological Diversity claims that of 72 pups released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, just 14 are still alive in the wild.

Newsweek contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for comment.

When it became clear the Mexican wolf populating needed conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a bi-national captive breeding program.

Currently, 380 Mexican wolves are kept in captivity across 60 facilities throughout the United States and Mexico.