Midwest scientists pitch in to help endangered Mexican wolf population

A subspecies of the gray wolf, Mexican wolves nearly disappeared in the 1970s. The federal government added them to the endangered species list in 1976. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

CHICAGO — Scientists from the Chicago Zoological Society and a team assembled by the Reproductive and Behavioral Sciences Department at the St. Louis Zoo are using artificial insemination in an effort to improve the genetic diversity of the Mexican wolf population.

The wolves have been endangered since 1976, when only seven were left in the wild, the Chicago Tribune reported. Now, scientists at Brookfield Zoo are utilizing new reproductive tools and technologies to advance the recovery of the Mexican wolf.

Scientists said artificial insemination holds promise for the Mexican wolf as well as other species that are close to extinction.

A frozen semen sample from a Mexican wolf in Arizona was used in a recent procedure at the Brookfield Zoo. Joan Daniels, curator of mammals at the zoological society, called the procedure “pretty revolutionary.”

Frozen samples that are collected in a medical setting are easier to transport than an actual animal, according to veterinary and reproductive physiology experts.

Cheryl Asa, a reproductive physiologist and former director of research at the St. Louis Zoo, said some animals can be “really fussy.”

“Using artificial insemination completely gets around that,” Asa said. “It’s so much easier if you can ship a semen sample.”

The Mexican wolf now has a population of about 280 in 55 zoos and other institutions and an estimated 150 are living in the wild. The zoological society has been partnered with the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2003.

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