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Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

Worldwide

  • Approximately 200,000-250,000 individuals (Boitani et al. 2018)

North America: Canada and U.S. (extrapolated from values reported by Mech and Boitani 2004, except as noted)

  • 65,000+ individuals
  • >85% found in Canada
    • Canadian Northwestern Territories and British Columbia holding the largest numbers
  • U.S. population: approximately 13,400-16,900 individuals (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2019)
    • Largely concentrated in the states of Alaska and Minnesota

Europe

  • Approximately 17,000 individuals (IUCN/SSC 2019)

Asia (extrapolated from values reported by Mech and Boitani 2004)

  • c. 81,500 individuals
  •  >61% in the regions encompassing the former U.S.S.R.
  • Turkey and Mongolia with c. 10,000 individuals in each country

Conservation

IUCN Status

  • Least Concern (2018 assessment) (Boitani et al. 2018)
  • Past assessments
    • 2010 - Least Concern
    • 2008 - Least Concern
    • 2004 - Least Concern
    • 1994 - Vulnerable
    • 1990 - Vulnerable
    • 1988 - Vulnerable
    • 1986 - Vulnerable
    • 1982 - Vulnerable

CITES Status

  • Appendix II, except for populations from Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, which are listed on Appendix I (UNEP 2019)

Other Status

  • United States Endangered Species Act (78 FR 35664 2013, Federal Register)
    • One of the first species to be listed as endangered
    • 1967-1976: listed as endangered subspecies
      • C.l. lycaon, Great Lakes region, 1967
      • C.l. irremotus, northern Rocky Mountains, 1973
      • C.l. baileyi, southwestern U.S. and Mexico, 1976
      • C.l. monstrabilis, Texas and Mexico, 1976
    • 1978: C.l. lycaon reclassified as threatened; all other subspecies combined and listed as endangered
      • 3 recovery plans were implemented; targeting populations in: 1) the western Great Lakes region, 2) the northern Rocky Mountain region, and 3) the Southwest region
    • 1994: experimental, introduced populations into Yellowstone and central Idaho
    • 1998: experimental, introduced population into Arizona & New Mexico
    • 2011 & 2012: delisted in the northern Rockies
    • 2013-2014: delisting under consideration for all gray wolf populations except the Mexican (gray) wolf
      • Currently under review, public comment period has closed
  • Within the European Union (EU) (Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe 2007)
    • Designated as Least Concern ver. 3.1 - regional assessment (by Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe)
    • Population viability non-uniform across the EU
      • Critically Endangered: Germany and western Poland
      • Endangered: Western-Central Alps, Scandinavia
      • Near Threatened: Iberia, Finland and Russian Karelia
      • Vulnerable: Italian peninsula
    • Protected by the Bern Convention (Appendix II)
    • Protected under the EU Habitats Directive, with the following exceptions:
      • Spain, considered a game species north of the Duero river
      • Greece, north of 39oN latitude
      • Finland, wolves receive differential treatment based on their occurrence in reindeer herding areas
      • Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), harvested under HD Appendix V
      • Romania has hunting quotas
  • Fully protected Norway (Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe 2007)

Threats to Survival

Human intolerance and persecution (Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe 2007; Mech and Boitani 2010)

  • Conflict with humans over depredation on livestock (Mech and Boitani 2004; Mech and Boitani 2010)
    • Resulting in 1/3 reduction in worldwide range, primarily in developed areas of Asia, Europe, Mexico, and the U.S.
  • Exaggerated concern regarding threats to humans
  • Predator control; human-wolf competition for wildlife (Mech and Boitani 2004; 78 FR 35664 2013)
    • Poisoning (indiscriminate), trapping, and hunting; historically employed by the public and government throughout the U.S., efforts subsiding in the mid 1900's
      • C.l. baileyi persecution, U.S. and Mexico: killing all wolves in the southwestern U.S., then nearly all in Mexico by 1960
    • Small and large scale persecution of the wolf is documented across much of its range (Mech and Boitani 2004)
  • Mongolia and China have ongoing extermination efforts

Hunting

  • Threat to wolf populations when allowed in areas with insufficient wolf numbers (see Mech and Boitani 2004 for regional details)
  • Fur bearing animal, hunted for its coat (Mech and Boitani 2004; Mech and Boitani 2010)
    • Alaska, Canada, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia primarily

Habitat loss and declining numbers of prey species (Mech and Boitani 2004; Mech and Boitani 2010)

  • Fragmentation of habitat; small areas unable to sustain suitable prey base
  • Habitat destruction common across most of the wolf's range
    • Eg. C.l. nubilus: much of the historical range in the U.S. has been modified for human use; transitory wolves may travel through or temporarily live in the remaining habitat, but it is unlikely suitable to support a wolf pack; viable populations remain only in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin (78 FR 35664 2013; Mech and Boitani 2004)

Management Actions

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) (from Wydeven 2011)

  • Monitored and supported a "natural" recovery of wolves within the state
    • Wolves began to recolonize their former territories in the mid-1970's following 15 year absence
    • State efforts to increase public education, compensate citizens for loss, provide legal protection, and set aside habitat supported wolf recovery
  • Current population (winter 2011) estimate of 782-855 wolves forming c. 200 packs

Reintroduction Programs

  • Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM), United States (Fritts et al. 1995; NPS website)
    • Effectively eliminated (no signs of denning) from the area by the 1930's leading to the listing of wolves as endangered within the U.S. in 1973
    • 1994-1996, biologists from the U.S. and Canada captured wolves from Canada to relocate and release in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and central Idaho
      • 31 YNP founders and 32 Idaho founders successfully formed packs, held territories, and reproduced
    • 2012, NRM wolf population includes c. 1,674 adults forming 321 packs (77 FR 55530 2012)
      • More than 100 breeding pairs inhabit the area
    • Efforts contributed to delisting within the region in 2012 (NPS website; 78 FR 35664 2013)
  • Mexican (gray) wolf; United States - see below

Mexican Wolf (C.l. baileyi)

Current population size (Mech and Boitani 2010, except as noted)

  • > 131 individuals in Arizona and New Mexico (USFWS 2019)
  • Nearly evenly distributed between Arizona and New Mexican populations within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA)
  • Number of breeding pairs: 5 in 2013; 3 in 2012; 7 in 2011
  • Population appears to function naturally with wild births occuring annually since the early 2000s

Endangered (Mech and Boitani 2010, except as noted)

  • Listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1976 (78 FR 35664 2013; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website)
  • Once common in its range
  • Declining following introduction of cattle stock and subsequent conflicts with ranchers; efforts to eradicate wolves nearly wiped out the subspecies by the mid-1900s

Breeding program in managed care

  • Program began in 1980; 7 founding members (Siminski and Spevak 2013)
  • Management under American Zoo and Aquarium Association Species Survival Plan in 1994
  • Three familial lines
    • Ghost Ranch - wild captured male and female (Hedrick et al. 1997)
    • Aragon - origin unknown; from the San Juan de Aragon Zoo in Mexico City (Hedrick et al. 1997)
    • McBride - wild captured; only certified line (Hedrick et al. 1997)

U.S. reintroduction program  (Kelly et al. 2001, except as noted)

  • Approved in 1982
  • Collaboration between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, USDA Forest Service, and Graham, Greenee, and Navajo counties
  • Goal
    • Maintain managed care population and re-establish wild population (at least 100 individuals) over a 5,000 square mile area within the historic range of the subspecies
  • First reintroduction in March 1998 at the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (78 FR 35664 2013; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website)
  • Designated as "nonessential and experimental" populations under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act (78 FR 35664 2013)
  • Killing of wolves allowed under some circumstances (eg. when a wolf is in the act of killing livestock)
  • Recapture and translocation of wolves straying outside boundaries of recovery areas, unless permission is granted from private landowner or dispersal is onto public land
  • Statistics on reintroduced populations BRWRA home to self sustaining population
    • Killing natural prey, such as elk and deer
    • Pair reproductively on their own
    • Reproduce successfully

Mexican reintroduction program

  • Program outlined in 2009 by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) (CONANP 2009)
  • Initiated in 2012
    • Reintroductions were made in the Sierra Madre Occidental
  • See USFWS website for updates.

Reintroduction

a grey Wolf going back into the wild

Male Mexican wolf translocation to wild in 2011.

Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, Arizona.

Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.

Page Citations

77 FR 55530 (2012)
78 FR 35664 (2013)
CONANP (2009)
Fritts et al. (1995)
Hedrick et al. (1997)
Kelly et al. (2001)
Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (2007)
Mech and Boitani (2004, 2010)
NPS website
Siminski and Spevak (2013)
USFWS website
Wydeven (2011)

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