Mexican Gray Wolf

(Canis lupus baileyi)

Webpage author:  Biodiversity and Conservation Student; Christen McDermott

Courtesy of Southwest Wildlife


Introduction Distribution Habitat Taxonomy Related Species Threats IUCN Conservation References


    The Mexican Gray Wolf is the southernmost occurring, most genetically distinct, and rarest type of Gray Wolf in North America. They are one of the smallest subspecies of Gray Wolf reaching an overall length no greater than 4.5 feet and a height maximum of about 3 feet.  Mexican wolves were killed off by aggressive predator control programs (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 1998). They once lived in the mountainous regions of the southwest including the deserts from central Mexico to western Texas, southern New Mexico, and central Arizona. By the turn of the century, reduction of natural prey led wolves to begin attacking domestic livestock. This reaction from the Mexican Wolves led intensive efforts by government agencies and individuals to eradicate the Mexican Wolves. Their efforts were successful. By the 1950s, the Mexican Wolf was eliminated from the wild. The Mexican Gray Wolf was declared an endangered species in 1976 and has remained so ever since. There are currently less than 200 Mexican Wolves that survive in captivity or within refuge areas (Desert USA 2006). The Mexican Gray Wolf only exists due to massive conservation efforts.

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Historic Range:

The historic range of the Mexican Gray Wolf was throughout western Texas, southern New Mexico, central Arizona and within northern Mexico since prehistoric times (Southwest Wildlife 2007). The Mexican Gray Wolf once extended as far south as the Isthmus of Tehauntepec which is the southernmost border of Mexico.  Predator-control programs along with encroachment by European-style farming and animal husbandry led to the decline of this subspecies of gray wolf (Garcia-Moreno 1996).

Current Range:

The Mexican Wolf was eliminated from the U.S. in the mid-1900s and it was estimated that fewer than 50 adult breeding pairs existed in Mexico in 1978 (Parsons 1998). Mexican Gray Wolves are currently allowed to roam within a recovery area. This Area includes parts of both Arizona and New Mexico as shown on the left. The main area within Arizona is the Blue Range Wolf Recovery area which partly overlaps into New Mexico. The Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge is located within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The refuge is within eastern New Mexico and is where the captive-bred wolves are held before they are released into the mountain areas of Eastern Arizona (Jensen 2003).  The other area within New Mexico is called the White Sands Wolf Recovery Area. These two areas  will hopefully allow them to repopulate the area that once was theirs.


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Habitat Requirements:

    The habitat necessary for the Mexican Gray Wolf includes the chaparral desert scrub, grassland valleys, and wooded areas (Southwest Wildlife 2007). Mexican wolves prefer wooded mountainous areas, most likely because of the favorable combination of water, cover, and prey availability (Parsons 1998). They avoided desert scrub and semi desert grasslands since they provide little cover or water. These wolves are highly mobile predators and need room to roam as they have dispersal distances of several hundred kilometers and record movements of around one thousand kilometers (Leonard 2005). Mexican Gray Wolves hunting revolves around the chase since wolves are able to run for long periods of time before relenting. This is part of the reason that debates have been recently coming up about expanding the area for the Mexican Gray Wolf refuge area. According to Terry Johnson of the Arizona Game & Fish Department, the current area is not sufficient for the 100 wolves that they are hoping to reintroduce to the wild. He states that they "need big country. How much bigger is where the argument is" (The Associated Press 2006). 

    Along with the type and amount of land that is required, an area that has the types of animals that the Mexican Gray Wolf preys on is necessary. The Mexican Wolf mainly eats elk and other ungulates within their area. They also prey on white-tailed and mule deer, pronghorn, peccary, beaver, rabbits, and other small mammals (Reed 2006). Since they hunt in packs, Mexican Wolves will decide on prey based upon the size of their packs. The smaller the pack, the smaller the prey, and likewise, the larger the pack the larger the prey is how they hunt.

    With recent conservation efforts the Mexican Wolf has been released into a portion of what was considered their historic range within the United States. There are two recovery areas that they currently reside in, which are, the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area and the White Sands Recovery Area. The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area has a low elevation of around 1,200 meters in the semi desert lowlands up to 3,350 meters in the mountainous areas. There are open grassy meadows throughout this range and water is available via natural sprigs, streams, and rivers. This area contains large animals such as the white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and javelina. (Parsons 1998)

    The White Sands Wolf Recovery Area has elevations ranging from 1,200 meters in the desert basins to 2,700 meters in the mountains. Water is present within springs as well as artificial sources. The large prey within this area are mule deer, pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, and javelina. There are also cattle within this area. (Parsons 1998)

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Taxonomy of the Mexican Gray Wolf and Closely Related Species:

    Kingdom:  Animalia

    Phylum:  Craniata

    Class:  Mammalia

    Order:  Carnivora

    Family:  Canidae

    Genus:  Canis

    Species:  Lupus

    Subspecies:  Baileyi

    Common Names: Mexican Gray Wolf, Mexican Wolf, Lobo


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Closely Related Species:


    Related Species include other subspecies of the Gray wolf (Canis Lupus) and the Red Wolf (Canis Rufus). Some would even argue that the Coyote (Canis latran) is a related species (Nowak 2002). There are currently fifteen living subspecies of the Gray wolf, including the Mexican Gray wolf. The Arabian Wolf (Canis lupus Arabs) can be found in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman and is currently critically endangered. It is a very small subspecies that is typically blended brown or completely brown with a thin coat. The Arctic Wolf (Canis lupus arctos) is currently a stable population and can be found in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. This is an average-sized subspecies with an almost exclusively white or creamy white with a thick coat. The Caspian Sea Wolf (Canis lupus cubanensis) is a smaller subspecies that has been hunted as a nuisance animal. It can be found between the Caspian and Black seas and is currently endangered. The Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) is currently declining from the interbreeding with the domestic dog. It can be found in both Australia and southeast Asia.


    The domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is found worldwide with a stable population. These are a common house animal, but in some parts of the world are raised for their meat. The Eastern Timber Wolf (Canis lupus lycoan) is currently at risk. It can be found in Southeastern Canada and the Eastern United States. It is a larger subspecies with full canine color spectrum being represented. The Egyptian Wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) is currently critically endangered and is found in far northern Africa. The Eurasian Wolf (Canis lupus lupus) has a stable population within western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, and Mongolia. 


    The Great Plains Wolf (Canis lupus nubilus) has a stable population within the southern Rocky Mountains, midwestern United States, eastern and southwestern Canada, and southeastern Alaska. They are usually gray, black, buff, or reddish. The Indian Wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax) is a very small subspecies that is typically tawny, buff, or reddish with a dense and short coat. They are endangered but may still be found in Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The Italian Wolf (Canis lups italicus) is an endangered species found on the Italian peninsula. The Mackenzie Valley Wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis) is currently stable and resides within Alaska, northern Rockies, and western and central Canada. These wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park and Idaho starting in 1995. The Russian Wolf (Canis lupus communis) is stable within central Russia. The Tundra Wolf (Canis lupus albus) is currently a stable subspecies residing within northern Russia and Siberia. (Wikipedia 2007).


    The red wolf has three recognized subpopulations within the United States that are considered to be closely related to the Mexican Gray wolf. The first is Canis rufus floridanus which resides from Maine to Florida. There is also Canis rufus gregoryi which resides in the

south central United States. The last recognized subpopulation within the US is the Canis rufus rufus which is located in central and coastal Texas, southern Lousiana, and is now probably being redistributed in the captive/reintroduced populations. The Red Wolf is considered to be endangered in the United States along with the Gray Wolf and more specifically the Mexican Gray Wolf. (Nowak 2002).


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    The main threat to the Mexican Gray Wolf is humans. According to the IUCN the major

threats to the Gray Wolf and the Gray Wolf (Mexican subpopulation), the two major threats are habitat loss/degradation which was human induced and ongoing, and persecution for pest control in the past and in the present. Through the twentieth century the Mexican Gray Wolf population fell mainly because of persecution by cattle ranchers. Individuals that were crossing from Mexico to the U.S. were also quickly killed due to the negative perception of wolves. 


    Animal husbandry and encroachment by European-style farming, along with predator-control programs eventually led to the decline of this subspecies of Gray Wolf.  Public and private bounties also provided an incentive to kill the wolves. The last populations of wild Mexican wolves had been eradicated from the U.S. by 1940, and in the mid-1960s a few isolated populations in Mexico were the last known to exist (Garcia-Moreno 1996). The Mexican Gray Wolf is protected under the Endangered Species Act within the U.S. having been recognized as the most endangered of the gray wolf subspecies in North America (Ginsburg & Macdonald 1990).


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IUCN Designation:


    The IUCN currently lists the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) as Least Concern meaning that the population as a whole is not needing protection currently. The Gray Wolf population within the United States is considered to be endangered in most areas.


    The IUCN lists the Gray Wolf (Mexican subpopulation) as Extinct in the wild. This means that there are currently no Mexican Gray Wolves surviving in the wilderness on its own. The only known survivors of this subspecies is in captivity. These captive wolves have been being

released into refuge sites in order to reintroduce the Mexican Gray Wolf to the areas in which it once prevailed.


IUCN Report for Gray Wolves link


IUCN Report for Gray Wolves (Mexican Subpopulation) link


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Current Conservation Actions:


    Conservation efforts began in 1979 when US Fish and Wildlife Services appointed a Mexican

Wolf Recovery Team. Their objective is to bring the wolf population to a level that will allow them to be removed from the endangered species list. They hope to establish a self-sustaining population of at least 100 Mexican Gray Wolves within their original territories.  These reintroduced wolves will be considered a "non-essential-experimental population and receive a diminished amount of protection due to the opposition of wolf reintroduction by livestock owners within the area. (Congress 1993). In order to help protect the Mexican Gray Wolf in some way, there are Federal and state laws that state that king a Mexican Gray wolf is a violation and can carry criminal penalties of up to $25,000 and six months in jail (The Associated Press 2002).


    The Mexican Wolf Recovery Team planned to release wolves annually. They planned to release about three family groups each year that would total 10-15 wolves over a 3-5 year span. After this, continued population growth would be due to natural reproduction. Through this process the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to achieve a self-sustaining population of 100 or more Mexican wolves within 8-10 years. The actual reintroduction of Mexican woves was approve by the Secretary of the Interior in 1997. (Parsons 1998). Since then the Mexican Wolf Recovery team has worked to meet all of their goals and objectives and have slowly progressed in doing so. This team now feels that the area currently given is not enough for the 100 wolves that are proposed to live there. They are fighting for more land within the United States, but they are also trying to find a way to reestablish the Mexican Gray Wolf within their largest original habitat, Mexico.


    Conservation efforts have not yet occurred in Mexico, even though there was discussion of translocation efforts (United States Fish and Wildlife Service 1996). Mexican authorities planned to release wolf packs into Coahuila and Chihuahua by the end of 2000, but this translocation never occurred. The difference in economics, politics, land ownership, and border issues may be some of the reasons that the translocation has not yet occurred (Rodriguez 2003). Within Mexico livestock production and crop farming are dominant land uses that may hinder translocation efforts within Mexico. Knowledge about public attitudes about the Mexican Gray Wolf will be important if Mexico tries any conservation efforts. This is necessary in order to give conservation managers a basis for addressing some of the concerns about wolf restorations well also minimize potential conflicts. (Rodriguez 2003)


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    Associated Press State & Local Wire (2002, March 29).  State department continues to oppose wolf reintroduction

        program.  BC Cycle, p. 1.


    Associated Press State & Local Wire (2006, January 4).  Review recommends expanded range for

        Mexican wolves.  BC Cycle, p. 1.   


    Congress Rep. No. 93-927 (1993).


    Desert USA.  Mexican Gray Wolf.  Retrieved 5 March 2007 from http://www.desertusa.m/mag98/mar/pr/du_mexwolf.html


    Garcia-Moreno, J., Matocq, M.D., Roy, M.S., Geffin E., Wayne R.K. (1996, April).  Relationships and genetic purity of the

        endangered Mexican Wolf based on analysis of microsatellite loci. Conservation Biology, 10(2), 376-389.


    Ginsberg, J.R. and Macdonald, D.W. (1990).  Foes, wolves, jackals and dogs.  An action plan for the conservation of canids.  World

        Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland.   


    Jensen, M.N. (2003, April).  Coming of age at 100: Renewing the National Wildlife Refuge System.  BioScience, 53(4),



    Leonard, J.A., Vila, C. & Wayne R.K. (2005).  Legacy Lost: Genetic variability and population of extirpated US grey

        wolves (Canis Lupus).  Molecular Ecology, 14, 9-17.


    Mech, L.D. & Boitani, L. (2004).  Canis Lupus.  In: IUCN 2006.  2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

        <>.  Downloaded on 2 April 2007.


    Nowak, R.M. (2002).  The original status of wolves in Eastern North America.  Southeastern Naturalist, 1(2), 95-130.


    Parsons, D.R. (1998, Winter).  "Green Fire" returns to the southwest: Reintroduction of the Mexican Wolf.  Wildlife

        Society Bulletin, 26(4), 799-807.


    Reed, J.E., Ballard, W.B., Gipson P.S., & Kelly, B.T. (2006, November).  Diets of free-ranging Mexican Gray Wolves in

        Arizona and New Mexico.  Wildlife Society Bulletin, 34(4), 1127-1133.


    Rodriguez, M., Krausman, P.R., Ballard, W.B., Carlos, V., & Shaw W.W. (2003, Winter).  Attitudes of Mexican Citizens

        about wolf translocation in Mexico.  Wildlife Society Bulletin, 31(4), 971-979.


    Southwest Wildlife. (2007).  Mexican Gray Wolf.  Retrieved 30 March 2007 from


    U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (1998, July).  Gray Wolf: Canis lupus.  Retrieved 2 March 2007 from


    United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2006).  Final Environmental impact Statement-Reintroduction of the Mexican wolf within its

        historic range in the Southwestern United States.  United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior, Washington,

        DC, USA.


    Wikipedia (2007).  Gray Wolf.  Retrieved 2 March 2007 from


    Wolf Specialist Group 1996.  Canis Lupus (Mexican subpopulations).  In: IUCN 2006.  2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

        <>.  Downloaded on 2 April 2007.