There are only about a hundred Mexican gray wolves left in the wild, but conservationists hope a recent arrival will help to turn the tide: a tiny male pup, the very first to be born using artificial insemination. The youngster carries "lost" genes that may give rise to a healthier next generation. 

Image: Endangered Wolf Center

The pup was born back in April at Missouri's Endangered Wolf Center (EWC) using sperm collected last year. Sperm has been collected and frozen from Mexican gray wolves for two decades, but we now know it can be used to produce healthy offspring. 

"He's doing great!" says EWC Director of Animal Care and Conservation Regina Mossotti. "Mom is so sweet, very caring and very attentive to the little pup. She makes sure he is well fed, warm and protected at all times."

Genetic bottlenecking has been a big concern with these rare animals, whose dwindling population increases the likelihood of complications from inbreeding. 

"With a critically endangered population, you need all the tools you can find to help save a species," says Mossotti. "This little male pup is so exciting. The artificial insemination offers the opportunity for us to bring back genetics that may have been lost over the years."



The sample used in the pup's conception was frozen and stored at St Louis Zoo's cryopreservation bank, one of the world's largest gene banks, established specifically for the long-term conservation of endangered animals.

With any luck, this young pup (or his future offspring) will be reintroduced back into the wild. 

Mossotti and her team work tirelessly to ensure that captive wolves raised at the centre have as little contact with humans as possible. The animals aren't hand-fed, spoken to or petted, and the facility houses multi-generational packs that scavenge their natural prey.

"Yearlings get to learn from mom and dad how to raise young and be good leaders," she says. "We are one of only a few facilities in the country that have the ability to raise animals in a way that they maintain their wildness and their natural instincts to run away from humans. This way, when they're reintroduced, they're successful."


Also known as "El Lobo", the Mexican gray wolf once roamed the borderlands between the US and Mexico, but unregulated hunting and conflict with farmers saw it eliminated from wild spaces in the 1970s. Some 20 years later, US Fish and Wildlife launched a reintroduction programme and released 11 wolves into Arizona – nine of those pioneers were raised at EWC. 

The artificial insemination programme represents the next stage of collaboration with US Fish and Wildlife, one that now involves the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan and St Louis Zoo's cryopreservation bank.

"In our long history, one of the most important challenges we have seen is that no one facility or organisation can manage a successful conservation programme alone," says Mossotti. "We are very proud of the team that came together to make this happen. Amazing people doing amazing work to save endangered species." 

Like all top predators, wolves play a critical role in the preservation of healthy ecosystems. Mexican gray wolves hunt mostly grazers like deer, elk and peccary – and we know that these animals can decimate local habitat if they multiply unchecked. 

Mossotti cautions that artificial insemination isn't a cure-all for this keystone carnivore, but the technique does offer a glimmer of hope. Today, the team has access to genetic materials from over 200 male and female Mexican wolves. By carefully spreading that seed, they may be able to stave off disease and ensure each pup is healthy and strong.

"This male has already helped his species so much," she says. "We can't wait to see what else his future holds!"

Image: Endangered Wolf Center
The EWC team examines the pup during his checkup. Image: Endangered Wolf Center
The pup is weighed and quickly returned to mom. Image: Endangered Wolf Center
The pup's father (left) and mother "Vera" (right). Image: Endangered Wolf Center