Long before the sun peaked over the mountains Wednesday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees were hard at work protecting one of the rarest sub-species in North America, the Mexican gray wolf.

 Their mission was to capture a pregnant female and her mate inside their big pen then release them into the wild.

“It’s a pretty unique program. These wolves have been raised for generations in captivity and then we are releasing some of them into the wild and establishing a wild population,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator Maggie Dwire.The Mexican gray wolf population, which was once in the thousands, was nearly wiped out in the 1970’s.

On the verge of extinction, the federal government implemented the re-introduction program. That’s where the two wolves living at the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility south of Belen come in.

“Our hope is her wild experience and his genetics will make a really great pair to contribute to the population for generations to come,” said Dwire. Wednesday, employees with the help of volunteers, captured the pair. Standing in a line, they formed a human wall and funneled the animals toward their dens.

“They are naturally afraid of people and it turns out when you bring a wall of people into a pen the wolves will retreat to the other side,” she said.Next, the wolves were taken out of their den, processed, given tracking collars and vaccinations.

Then just as they once entered captivity, they were crated out to become part of a wild pack and add to the once diminishing population in the southwest.The two wolves are expected to be released into the wild in Arizona this Wednesday night.

There are now more than 100 Mexican gray wolves roaming in the southwest. That’s up from about 80 last year.

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