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Valentine for "Leopold"

Named "LightHawk" by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo after the flight to bring her to the Colorado Springs facility, this female Mexican wolf was introduced to her new mate "Leopold" on February 9, 2016. image: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

A female wolf was transported via a LightHawk 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 an effort to continue the valuable genetic line carried by these two wolves.

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

Male wolf "Leopold" senses the arrival of "LightHawk" on February 9, 2016. The pair have the potential to carry forth valuable genetic material for their endangered specie. image: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered wolf species in the world. Their 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.

LightHawk volunteer pilot Jack Long based in Austin, Texas provided a flight in his Pilatus PC-12 turbo-prop airplane to quickly and with little stress move the wolf from Arizona to Colorado Springs. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo renamed the wolf “LightHawk” in honor of her donated flight to Colorado.

LightHawk volunteer pilots (from left) Jack Long and Jerry Seckler are met by Rebecca Zwicker, Rocky Mountain Wild Lead Animal Keeper and Dina Bredahl Animal Care Manager after flying "LightHawk" an endangered Mexican wolf to meet her Valentine "Leopold" at the Zoo. image: Ryan Boggs/LightHawk “Wolves are social animals that live in packs, so even if the new pair doesn’t produce pups, 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 [his previous mate who is deceased]. Good signs that they are getting along are seeing playful behavior like bowing to one another, and patrolling their large exhibit as a pair.”

The team on site captured this moment below. "Female 'LightHawk' showing her first sign of interest in male 'Leopold'," says the video's description. "She found one of his favorite scent marking locations and took time to roll repeatedly in his scent. He was very interested in her scent marking locations as well. Hopefully this is the start of a great relationship!"

LightHawk has partnered with the Mexican Gray Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) since 2009. Flights in private aircraft enabled the SSP to transport individuals within the captive breeding population hoping to halt the near-extinction of the species. LightHawk’s involvement in the SSP has been a huge benefit to the effort as long road trips, or disruptive travel via commercial or cargo airlines would have been out of the question for the easily stressed wolves.

More about Mexican gray wolves:

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.