Recovering Mexican Wolves: Every Wolf Counts

Have you ever wondered how biologists “count” wildlife populations? For the Mexican wolf, it takes a coordinated effort across multiple state, federal, and tribal agencies over several months. It’s a process that involves detailed planning, trained aerial darters, multiple aircraft, and good weather.

A wolf with a yellow radio collar looks at the photographer
A Mexican wolf from the HooDoo pack is released with a new radio collar during the 2019 count. Photo: Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team

Last year’s count

The annual Mexican wolf count is an integral part of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. By providing information about the minimum number of wolves, packs, breeding pairs, and pups in the wild, the count tracks progress toward reaching recovery goals for this endangered species.

In 2019, the annual count documented a 24% increase in the wild population of Mexican wolves, raising the total number of wolves in the wild to a minimum of 163 animals.

The 2019 count also found that at the end of 2019, there were at least 42 packs of wolves, including 11 new pairs, plus 10 individuals in the wild. A wolf pack is defined as two or more wolves that maintain an established territory.

A minimum of 90 pups were born in 2019, and at least 52 survived to the end of the year — a 58% survival rate. Average survival of Mexican wolf pups is around 50%.

Four wolf pups in the hand of biologists
Cross-fostering captive-born pups into wild dens is a proven method used by conservation partners to increase genetic diversity in the wild Mexican wolf population. Photo: Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team

A little different this year

Typically, counting the wild population of Mexican wolves involves dozens of staff and volunteers. In 2021, biologists are still collecting data for the 2020 count, but with limited staff and under stringent COVID-19 safety measures.

To provide an opportunity for wider participation in the 2020 Mexican wolf count, you’re invited to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners on a virtual count — using photos, video and visuals from past years, we will walk you through the steps we take each year during the annual count and capture. Stay tuned for more information about the people, places, and technology that will provide an updated Mexican wolf minimum population estimate.

In our next post, we’ll look at the ground surveys that occur as the first part of the annual count.

Continuing posts in this series:
Recovering Mexican Wolves: How Radio Collars Contribute to Conservation
Recovering Mexican Wolves: An Aerial Approach
Recovering Mexican Wolves: A Quick Health Check

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.

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