Can artificial insemination save the Mexican wolf from extinction?

April 26, 2017, 4:33 p.m.
Mexican gray wolf in snow
Photo: Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

The Mexican gray wolf is a subspecies native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. Known as the "lobo," this subspecies was completely wiped out by the mid-1970s, with only a few individuals of the species surviving in zoos. For decades, dedicated conservationists have been determined to hear the howls of the Mexican gray wolf in the wild again and have devised captive breeding programs and reintroduction programs. And now there is yet another important tool available for helping bring the species back from the brink.

The first wolf pup conceived through artificial insemination was born on April 2 at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

Endangered Wolf Center spokeswoman Regina Mossotti said the wolf pup received its first health checkup Monday and was in good shape. The pup weighs about 5 pounds and will grow to be between 60 and 70 pounds.

Conservationists say the birth means artificial insemination can be used more with the endangered species not only to increase their numbers but also for genetic diversity, which is key in developing healthier and more viable pups. Mossotti said conservationists have spent 20 years collecting wolf semen in anticipation of one day having the technology to artificially inseminate endangered females.

While it has been and continues to be an uphill battle, today there are 113 of these wolves in the wild and several hundred more living at zoos and captive breeding programs. Each individual is critical to the species, and every tool for improving genetic diversity among the population is valuable.

Meanwhile, the newborn Mexican gray wolf pup still doesn't have a name — but you can help change that. According to the Post-Dispatch, "The center has a fund for naming pups, established by longtime supporter and famed actor Betty White, through which donors can contribute $2,500 to name pups born at the center."

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