— Female Mexican gray wolf arrives in time for breeding season —

February 9, 2016, Colorado Springs, CO – A female wolf has arrived on a donated flight to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo just in time for the once-a-year Mexican gray wolf breeding season. She will be paired with the Zoo’s male wolf, Leopold, in a last-chance effort to continue the valuable genetic line carried by these two wolves.

Dina Bredahl, Animal Care Manager, is overseeing the new pairing, with high hopes that these two older wolves can reproduce.

“Having two 11-year-old wolves produce pups is a long shot,” Bredahl said. “However, both wolves are very genetically valuable to their species, and everyone involved felt we had to give them this chance.”

The Mexican Gray Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) tracks the genetic line of each individual in human care and makes recommendations for breeding based on pairings that will yield the best genetic diversity. According to the SSP, both Leopold and the new female, who is currently known only as Female #892, have under-represented genes in the remaining wolf population.

“Our previous female wolf, Weeko, was unsuccessful at producing pups before she passed away from cancer in January,” Bredahl said. “Our new female wolf is Weeko’s sister, so it would really mean a lot to all of us if their genetic line would live on.”

The Mexican gray wolf breeding season is February 5 to March 5, peaking right around Valentine’s Day. Everyone involved with the SSP wanted the new female to have as much time as possible to bond with Leopold, so it was important for her to arrive as soon as possible. An organization called LightHawk, whose mission is to help conservation organizations by mobilizing volunteer pilots who want to help, donated the vital flight needed to give the wolves a fighting chance. Now that Female #892 will become part of the Zoo family, she will be renamed LightHawk in honor of her donated flight to Colorado.

“Wolves are social animals that live in packs, so even if the new pair doesn’t produce cubs, it was important to find a companion for Leopold,” Bredahl said. “We hope that Leopold will bond with LightHawk just as quickly as he did with Weeko. Good signs that they are getting along are seeing playful behavior like bowing to one another, and patrolling their large exhibit as a pair.”

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has been a participant in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program since 1994, with three wolves born at CMZ reintroduced back into the wild. It is possible, if Leopold and LightHawk are able to reproduce, that one or more of their pups could be released into the wild.

Until the 1900s, the Mexican gray wolf ranged throughout central Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas; by the 1950s, the subspecies was virtually wiped out. Their numbers have been increasing through captive breeding programs. At last estimate, there were 70 Mexican gray wolves in the wild.