Sedgwick County Zoo delivers two Mexican wolf pups to Arizona in cross-foster effort

WICHITA, KAN. – Animal care experts from the Sedgwick County Zoo delivered two critically endangered Mexican wolf pups to Arizona to be cross-fostered by a wild pack last month.
Cross-fostering is a technique in which wolf pups from one litter are placed with another litter in hopes that the wolf mother will adopt the new pups as her own. Placing pups from human care into a wild litter not only helps increase the population size in the wild but also helps increase genetic diversity in a critically endangered species.

“This is a unique opportunity for pups born in our zoo to be raised in the wild by experienced parents,” says Nancy Smith, senior keeper at Sedgwick County Zoo.

Cross-fostering is a relatively new technique for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. With fewer than 150 individuals remaining in the wild, the two pups born at SCZ represent vital new genetics that will help a critically endangered population.

In order for cross-fostering to be successful, pups from both litters must be born within a few days of one another, and the transfer must be completed before the pups are two weeks old.
“The stars have to align perfectly in order to make this work,” says Dr. Heather Arens, Sedgwick County Zoo veterinarian.

In the early morning hours of Monday, May 6, Arens, Smith, SCZ keepers, and Regina Mossotti of the Endangered Wolf Center ventured into the Mexican wolf habitat at the Zoo to collect the pups from the den. Two pups – a male and a female – were chosen to make the journey to Arizona. Two planes, a car, another plane, and a very bumpy 4x4 ride later … they arrived at base camp. There, they joined a team of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, working together to locate the den and retrieve the five wild pups. The wild pups were united with the Zoo pups and examined and introduced to one another.

The team wore pre-treated, unscented clothing and bared no skin so as not to leave behind a human scent. The pups were all put into a “puppy pile” where they were covered with each other’s scent in order for the wild mother to care for her new foster pups.

“The results of the cross-fostering effort are astounding,” says Dr. Arens. “I care for animals in the Zoo every day, but this is the first time I’ve been able to directly fulfill my dream to save animals in the wild. Five- year-old Heather would be proud – we’re really making an impact.”

Two pups from the litter remain at SCZ with parents Angus and Nova. They are now roughly seven weeks old and thriving. Zoo visitors can see them at the North American Boardwalk.

Mexican wolves are critically endangered and native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, extermination programs and habitat loss have led to dramatic decline. In the late 1970s, the last seven remaining wild Mexican wolves were brought into human care in an effort to save the species. In 1998, the first Mexican wolves were released back into the wild in Arizona and New Mexico and have grown into a population of 131 Mexican wolves today. Mexico began reestablishing a population of wolves in 2011, where there are approximately 20-30 wild individuals today.

The Sedgwick County Zoo is a not-for-profit organization, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit Sedgwick County Zoo is also a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Sedgwick County Zoo has been recognized with national and international awards for its support of field conservation programs and successful breeding of rare and endangered species. It's the No. 1 outdoor family tourist attraction in Kansas and is home to more than 3,000 animals of nearly 400 different species. For more information, visit

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