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It's hard enough for a skilled photographer to convince an animal to strike a pose, so it doing so on its own is incredible luck. And if it weren't for a trail cam at the non-profit Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York, we might have never seen this striking image.

In fall 2019, a Mexican gray wolf family gathered for a storybook photo as a group of six lined up on large logs in a majestic “V” formation. Most of the creatures are looking at the camera as if they are following the directions of a photographer. But amazingly, this shot is completely candid with no human intervention.

Wolves are incredible creatures. They are social animals who live in family units that are referred to as packs. This particular group comprises 11 members with parents Rosa and Alléno at the head of the family. Their nine pups were born in spring 2018, and as the WCC observed the family, they named the little ones in honor of female conservationists who work to protect and preserve wildlife.

When Maggie Howell, executive director of the WCC, looks at the family photo, she sees it as a symbol of the species clawing its way back from extinction. “The Mexican gray wolf or ‘lobo’ is the most genetically distinct lineage of wolves in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most endangered mammals in North America,” Howell explains.

“By the mid-1980s, hunting, trapping, and poisoning caused the extinction of lobos in the wild, with only a handful remaining in captivity.” Today, 196 Mexican gray wolves remain in the wild in the U.S.

The WCC is part of the active effort to save the Mexican gray wolf. “[We] are one of a network of facilities participating in the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan—a bi-national initiative whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of Mexican gray wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.”

In 2018, Mexican gray wolves Rosa and Alléno had a litter of nine pups. Here are a few of them when they were young…

In 2021, a mitochondrial DNA analysis of North American wolf-like canines indicates that the extinct Late Pleistocene Beringian wolf was the ancestor of the southern wolf clade, which includes the Mexican wolf and the extinct Great Plains wolf. The Mexican wolf is the most ancestral of the gray wolves that live in North America today.

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