4 Mexican gray wolves to be released into Ariz. recovery area

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Mexican gray wolf By Christina O'Haver Mexican gray wolf By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Federal and state Wildlife officials say they are releasing four Mexican gray wolves into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area of Arizona as part of an effort to replace those killed in illegal shootings.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department planned to release a pair Wednesday and the other pair next week.

Each pair consists of a male and female wolf.

The first pair of wolves to be released were held in a pen in the Apache National Forest during breeding season, which occurs in February and March.

The other two wolves were held at the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico.

The males were captured during the annual wolf population survey in January, and the females were selected from a captive breeding population.

The Interagency Field Team responsible for the day-to-day management of the Mexican wolf population believes both female wolves are pregnant and timed the releases so that the animals could transition into the new territory before giving birth.

"We anticipate the release of these two pregnant females from captivity will have a higher chance of success because they are paired with males that already have extensive wild experience," said Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Regional Director. "The genetic value of the two females will help us as we move toward establishing a more genetically robust population of wild wolves."

State wildlife officials say the Interagency Field Team will monitor the wolves after their release and, if necessary, provide supplemental food while the wolves acclimate to the recovery area and learn to catch native prey.

The 2013 end-of-year population survey documented 83 Mexican wolves, up from a count of 75 the year before.