05:16 PM

For Immediate Release

20 Years Later: Mexican Gray Wolves Still Fighting for Recovery

WASHINGTON (March 29, 2018) – Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Mexican gray wolves into the wild of Arizona. On March 29, 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 wolves from captivity into the wild in Arizona as part of a program to reintroduce the imperiled wolves back to the landscape where they had been hunted, trapped and persecuted to near extinction.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, issued this statement:

“I will always consider my role in the release of these beautiful wolves to be one of the highlights of my career. The energy and excitement that was put forward that day by Native American leaders, wolf advocates and state and federal scientists is a true testament to the power of collaborative conservation.

“We must put politics aside and implement efforts to recover wolves and their habitat. If we are thoughtful in our approach, give these wolves a little support and get out of their way, I think we will have a great success story in Mexican gray wolf recovery.”

Bryan Bird, Southwest program director, issued this statement:

“Once numbered in the thousands, it was only 20 years ago that the Mexican gray wolf was extinct in the wild. This historic release was a monumental step towards their recovery.

“But with only 114 wolves left today in Arizona and New Mexico, the future of the ‘lobo’ is still uncertain. The recently released recovery plan ignores science-based recommendations and leaves the species without much hope for growth. The Mexican gray wolf remains the most endangered subspecies of gray wolf in the world.

“The Southwestern landscape depends on these wolves. Withholding protections would hurt the species and in turn, the entire landscape.”


Defenders of Wildlife helped to produce a short video about the release and what it meant for the recovery of this iconic Southwestern species. View the video here.


Mexican gray wolves, or lobos, are the most endangered gray wolf subspecies in the world. The lobos are facing low numbers and a genetic crisis in the wild. Limited genetic diversity in the wild can result in smaller litters and lower pup survival – a recipe for extinction. Releases of captive wolves are critical to increase genetic diversity of Mexican gray wolves in the wild.

In January, a coalition of wolf advocates filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s flawed recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf, one of North America’s most endangered mammals.

The best available science indicates that recovery of the Mexican gray wolf requires at least three connected populations totaling approximately 750 individuals, a carefully managed reintroduction effort that prioritizes improving the genetic health of the animals and the establishment of at least two additional population centers in the Southern Rockies and in the Grand Canyon regions.

The new recovery plan uses artificial population limits and boundaries and otherwise misconstrues data to suggest that just 320 wolves in an isolated population could represent a genetic rebound and recovery from this dangerous and deteriorating situation.

The new plan limits wolves to inadequate habitat with low recovery potential, lacks sufficient releases of genetically diverse wolves into the wild, relies inordinately on Mexico for recovery and prevents wolves from occupying the very areas scientists say is essential for their recovery.

The new plan also allows state governments, whose wildlife commissions are not always supportive of wolves, to determine when and where new releases can occur, thwarting the likelihood of recovery.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.