Wildlife managers in the United States say their counterparts in Mexico have released two pairs of endangered Mexican gray wolves south of the U.S. border as part of an ongoing reintroduction effort.
The wolves came from the Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico and were placed in two areas in the state of Chihuahua, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department announced Tuesday.
The wolf population in Mexico now numbers around 45, with 14 litters born since 2014, officials said.
“Through international cooperation, recovery efforts are moving forward in Mexico and contradict the contention of some critics that recovery can’t occur in that country,” Jim DeVos, Mexican wolf coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said in a statement.
The U.S. reintroduction program has been operating in New Mexico and Arizona for more than two decades.
The most recent count in early 2021 showed at least 186 wolves in the wild in the two states, marking a 14% increase over the previous year and a doubling of the population over the past five years.
The results of a new survey of the U.S. population are due soon.
Agencies in the U.S. and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas have been working for years to help the species recover.
The Mexican gray wolf is the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America and was listed as endangered in the U.S. in 1976.
The wolf was once common throughout portions of the southwestern U.S., as well as Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental regions, but had been all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s due to extensive predator control initiatives.
Officials said the Mexican commission, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife managers, is in final negotiations for a letter of intent aimed at strengthening the program. It will include efforts focused on conflicts with livestock where the predators are reintroduced.
Ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico have been critical of reintroduction efforts because the wolves have been known to kill livestock, but environmentalists have been pushing for the release of more captive wolves into the wild.