A male Mexican gray wolf released into the wild last week in hopes of expanding the endangered species is doing well, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say.
The 4-year-old wolf set free in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is the first of its kind to be released in the last four years, officials said in a statement.
Wildlife officials hope the wolf will replace the pack’s breeding Bluestem alpha male, which was illegally killed last year. The Mexican wolf, called M1133, was released in time for breeding season after ensuring that the alpha female hadn’t already paired with another male. If he becomes her mate, he will provide the pack with some genetic diversity.
M1133 was born in captivity in 2008 and taken to the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility later that year along with his parents and littermate. There, he was prepared for release.
The wolf wears a radio collar, allowing biologists to monitor him. Four wolves in the pack, including the alpha female, also wear collars. Officials say at least three uncollared wolves are in the pack as well.
Federal officials placed the Mexican gray wolf on the endangered species list in 1976 after it was hunted nearly to extinction. In 1998, federal biologists launched a program to reintroduce the wolf in Arizona and New Mexico. As of 2011, 58 Mexican gray wolves were reported living in the Southwest.
The Mexican gray wolf -- which once roamed Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico -- is genetically distinct from wolves elsewhere in North America.