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Thu, Feb. 20

Mexican wolf rarest in North America

The Mexican gray wolf is the most distinctive sub-species of gray wolf and one of the most endangered. Its historic range once included Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, but they were hunted nearly to extinction throughout the early 20th century both to protect livestock and reduce competition for game animals.

They disappeared from the Grand Canyon eco-region in the mid-1940s and were added to the Endangered Species list in 1976. At that time, only a handful remained in Mexico. These formed the basis of a bi-national captive breeding program. There are now more than 250 wolves in such programs.

Wolves (canis lupus) are closely related to dogs; in fact dogs are classified as a subspecies (canis lupus familiaris).

Wolves are generally bigger than dogs, with brains between 20 and 30 percent larger. They are also hardier and have a better sense of smell.

The Mexican wolf is the smallest of North American varieties, measuring between four and a half to six feet long and weighing between 50 and 90 pounds. All wolves live in packs made up of several animals ­ a dominant pair and their young, along with other subordinate or inexperienced adults. Usually only the alpha pair mates. Sometimes the alpha male will mate with other females in the pack but generally the alpha female tries to prevent this with her own dominance and aggression.

Wolves mate in January or February and give birth after about 65 days gestation. Litters have been known to contain as many as 14 pups but the average is around six. The whole pack takes part in looking after and training the young.

Only about 20 or 30 percent of the litter will make it to their first year and about half of those will die before they are independent of the pack. The average lifespan for an adult is between four and seven years.

They are social animals with a well-developed hierarchy and communication structure that includes facial expressions, body language, growls, barks, howls and scent marking.

Elk make up three quarters of the Mexican wolf's diet, and they hunt these and other large animals in packs. Though they can sprint to speeds as high as 40 miles per hour, most healthy prey animals can outrun them and often the pack will give up if a large and aggressive animal stands its ground.

They are well-adapted to going days without a meal and then gorging when they do capture prey, eating as much as 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.

Wolves can range over 100 miles but typically travel about 15 miles per day on average. They tend to avoid humans, but can become habituated to livestock, especially if scavangable carcasses are left out.

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