-- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo plays an important role in ensuring survival.--

January 12, 2011, Colorado Springs, CO – Cheyenne Mountain Zoo hopes to see a new litter of Mexican gray wolf pups in the future. A six-year-old female, Weeko (meaning beautiful girl), arrived at the zoo to join 10-year-old Masadi (meaning moon) in the Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit. Weeko was sent from the California Wolf Center on a breeding recommendation as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). You can now see both wolves on exhibit.

“They immediately showed signs of comradeship. When they first met, they engaged in a lot of prancing and play-bowing, and even stood side-by-side in the ‘on alert’ stance,” said Dina Bredhal, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo animal care manager.

Once common from Mexico to Colorado, there are only about 40 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild, mainly along the Arizona-New Mexico border. Their biggest threat is humans, and despite federal laws protecting the wolves, they continue to be illegally poached. The mission of the SSP program is to conserve a select and typically threatened or endangered species population. Without the help of organizations like Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Mexican gray wolves would disappear from the wild.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s two young male Mexican gray wolves, Tasai and Imado, were sent to Heritage Park Zoo in Arizona to make way for the potential new family. Because any pups Weeko and Masadi produce could eventually be released in the wild, zoo staff will have limited contact with the wolves. For example, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo uses one-way glass in the public viewing area of their exhibit, and zookeepers don’t conduct extensive training or operant conditioning of the wolves.

“We want them to maintain a healthy respect of humans. Aside from the basics, we are very hands off and don’t foster a close relationship with the wolves,” said Bredahl.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has long played an important role in the species recovery plan. The oldest Mexican gray wolf matriarch was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1997 and released in the wild. 13-year-old Estrella was recently found shot and killed in southwest New Mexico. She produced litters every year between 2002 and 2007, and was considered a breeding star and important contributor to her species. Several of her offspring went on to become alphas of their packs. Federal law enforcement officials are still investigating her death.

Click here for video of Weeko and Masadi together in their Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit.