Payson Roundup (Original) Posted March 7, 2017 by Peter Aleshire
Right now, roughly 100 Mexican gray wolves roam the wilds of Arizona and New Mexico.
From a genetic point of view, they’re almost all brothers and sisters.
And that worries the federal biologists charged with establishing a self-sustaining wild population of wolves in the Southwest.
It also largely explains the sometimes-controversial strategies the biologists are using to bolster the wild packs — and a plan to release additional wolf packs in Rim Country — hundreds of miles from the remote release sites they’ve used so far.
Biologists say the wolves face a genetic bottleneck, which will leave them prone to assorted diseases and mutations, reducing the long-term odds of their survival.
All the known Mexican gray wolves in the world are descended from the last seven of their kind captured in the wild. Those seven wolves gave rise to the captive breeding program that has produced new wolves released into the wild since 1998.
But most of the wolves now in the wild are descended from a single female, who was among the first wolves released.
The direct descendants of the matriarch of the Bluestem Pack, affectionately known as breeding female F521, dominate the wild packs.
Of the 70 wolves in the wild whose genetics are known, only four — all males — did not descend from that female founder of the line.
That means when any two breeding age wild wolves set up housekeeping — 83 percent will have both parents descended from the Bluestem Pack. The other 17 percent will have one parent descended from that fabled pack.
So that means the future success of the reintroduction program depends on continuing to introduce new genetic combinations from the captive-reared population.