ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The BioPark’s partnership with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is spurring on the recovery of southwestern endangered species. The BioPark’s nine Mexican gray wolves Kawi and Ryder, plus their seven pups will soon be released into the wild.

“Our very own ABQ BioPark is playing a big role in international efforts to protect and help endangered species thrive, including the Mexican gray wolf. Albuquerque can be proud that its hometown zoo is focused on conservation and helping lobos make it again in the wild,” said Mayor Tim Keller in a news release Tuesday.

The seven pups were born last year and the pack is in Mexico now to learn how to hunt and survive on their own. Once they can do that, they will be released into northern Mexico.

“We’re excited and sad at the same time,” said Erin Flynn in the same news release, ABQ BioPark mammal curator. “It’s a zoo’s dream to directly help a wild population like this. It’s even more powerful and touching for us that it’s our beloved Lobo that we’re helping. It’s just amazing.”  

In this Jan. 15, 2021 image provided by the ABQ BioPark officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Texas and Mexican wildlife managers prepare to transport a pack of endangered Mexican gray wolves from Albuquerque, N.M. The animals were taken to Mexico, where they will eventually be released into the wild. (ABQ BioPark via AP)

According to a news release, the BioPark has partnered with the USFWS since 1983 on Mexican wolf conservation and several BioPark-born Lobos have been released into the wild throughout the years, but the BioPark says this is the first international pack release for the facility. The Mexican gray wolf has been recognized as an endangered species since 1976. Although they once roamed throughout the American Southwest and northern Mexico, the species was all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s. Flynn said this is incredibly significant, as it is rare for animals that were born and raised in zoos to be released into their native habitat.

According to the news release, Ryder arrived at the BioPark in late 2018 and warmed up to his mate Kawi quickly and the two welcomed their first litter the next spring – these first three pups, including current BioPark resident Archer, were the first Mexican gray wolves born at the ABQ BioPark in 15 years. Kawi and Ryder’s second litter of seven pups arrived in May 2020 and care staff said the group grew into a tight-knit pack.

This Jan. 15, 2021 image provided by the ABQ BioPark shows an endangered Mexican gray wolf in a transport crate before leaving the zoo in Albuquerque, N.M., for a trip to Mexico where it and the rest of its pack will eventually be released into the wild. (ABQ BioPark via AP)

The news release states ABQ BioPark staff members escorted the family to the U.S./Mexico border and at the border, USFWS officials gave final permission for the pack to proceed to Mexico and they were driven to a “wilding school” south of Mexico City by a team of conservationists from Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro. According to Flynn, this process will be hands-off and their new caregivers will make sure they’re ready for complete wildlife before an official release.

Mother Kawi was born at the Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón in Mexico and she arrived at the ABQ BioPark in 2016 according to the news release. The BioPark has welcomed 79 Mexican wolf pups since 1983. In addition to breeding, the ABQ BioPark also works with the USFWS Mexican Wolf Program by temporarily holding and caring for injured wild wolves that need medical treatment or rehabilitation; That means some wolves stay behind the scenes and are cared for by staff while they await their next destination according to the news release.

The BioPark says Archer will stay at the ABQ BioPark and he’s not currently recommended for breeding, but will eventually be part of a new pack at the zoo.