Another season of Mexican Wolf cross-foster flights

In early May, LightHawk kicked off another season of Mexican wolf cross-foster flights with conservation partner, the Mexican Wolf Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Program. Mexican wolves were almost eradicated from the wild in both the U.S. and Mexico. The population was saved from extinction by a breeding program that started with just 7 wolves. In 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing wolves back into the wild.

A lack of genetic diversity in the wild wolves remains a threat to their long-term survival. To address that, genetics from captive wolves need to be introduced into wild packs. Unfortunately, releasing adult captive wolves proved to be difficult for the wolves, and the making the transition to the wild was too often unsuccessful from captivity to the wild.

With that in mind, the cross-foster program began. Wolf pups born in captivity are placed in wild dens with other new wild wolf pups of a similar age. They are then raised by their foster moms as wild pups, which has shown to mitigate some of the problems captive adults faced when returning to the wild. This increases the pack’s genetic diversity and helps build a strong, sustainable wild population.

This flight took 5 pups from the Wolf Conservation Center in New York to New Mexico where they were transported by ground to the wild den location. LightHawk flights are an ideal method for transporting these precious animals as they allow handlers to feed and care for the wolf pups throughout the flight. Additionally, because flights can be tailored to arrive as close to wild dens as possible, it shortens the amount of on-the-ground transport required to get them to their new homes.

LightHawk has been involved in the cross-foster program since it began in 2016. In that time, the population of wild wolves has grown from 97 to at least 257 Mexican wolves at the end of 2023. In that time, our volunteer pilots have transported more than 100 Mexican wolves (adults and pups), having a significant impact on the species’ growth and recovery.

Volunteer pilot Ken Adelman transported the wolf pups and their handlers on this flight. Ken (and his wife Gabrielle) have transported a wide range of endangered species with LightHawk including these wolves, black-footed ferrets and cheetah cubs. We’re grateful for all they do for LightHawk and for their contribution to the recovery efforts of endangered species.

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