Mexican wolf pups are placed in dens in Arizona, New Mexico

Federal wildlife managers have released 11 endangered Mexican wolf pups into the wild, injecting a much-needed genetic boost to an otherwise limited gene pool.

The effort is a part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s cross-fostering program that mixes captive-born pups with wild ones as mother wolves give birth in the spring.

While the process of cross-fostering involves numerous agencies and detailed planning, the concept is straightforward. Captive-born wolf pups are removed from their natal dens and placed into surrogate, wild families.

But the on-the-ground work can still be tricky. Wildlife managers must remove the pups from their biological families, nurse them during transport, collect blood samples for further research and then put them into wild dens, sometimes with adult wolves still in them.

It’s done to help populations thrive. Genetic diversity is a significant measure of success for the Mexican wolf recovery program. Since there were only seven found individuals, the species suffers from a dangerously low gene pool. According to some genetic research, each wild Mexican wolf is nearly as closely related as siblings.

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