Endangered wolf pups in St. Louis are live-streamed online

Saturday, June 4, 2011 | 4:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:33 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

ST. LOUIS — The Endangered Wolf Center in suburban St. Louis is facing a financial crunch, and officials are hoping a set of newborn pups can help.

Six Mexican gray wolf pups were born May 1. The Mexican gray is an endangered species. The center is broadcasting streaming video of the pups on its website and on its Facebook page.

Ralph Pfremmer, board chairman of the Endangered Wolf Center, said officials hope the pups capture the public's attention like recent live video of bald eagle chicks and even common dogs. Pfremmer said the center needs significant donations to raise the pups and many other wolves at the center, with the goal of returning the animals to the wild.

Pfremmer said the video will provide a rare glimpse into the lives of wolves — how the pups interact with each other and with their parents.

"This will give everyone an opportunity to see these remarkable keystone predators inside the wolves' lair," Pfremmer said.

The pups are the second litter born to parents Perkins and Abby. Their first litter was born in 2010. The new pups consist of five females and one male. Only four litters of Mexican gray wolves have been born in 2011.

The Mexican gray, known as "El Lobo," is considered critically endangered, with only 50 living outside captivity in New Mexico and Arizona. The Endangered Wolf Center said 170 Mexican grays have been born at the center, and at least one alpha member of each existing wild pack can trace its ancestry directly to the center in west St. Louis County.

The center was founded in 1971 by the well-known zoologist Marlin Perkins, a St. Louis native best-known nationally as host of the TV show "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" that aired in the 1960s and 1970s. Perkins died in 1986.

The expansion of the American West has not been kind to the Mexican gray breed. Officials at the Endangered Wolf Center say the Mexican grays were hunted, trapped and poisoned for more than a century by ranchers and others. It was designated an endangered species in 1976 and was considered extinct in the wild until reintroduction into Arizona and New Mexico in 1998.

The new litter will wear "pup radio" telemetry collars until they are about 7 months old. The collars will help biologists locate the pups and keep track of their progress. The center is participating in the program along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.

The center said only 20 t0 40 percent of Mexican gray pups survive in the wild each year, and the Fish & Wildlife Service is unable to find the bodies to determine whether poaching, disease, predation or starvation is causing the deaths.

"What we do in captivity is diminished if we cannot understand how to help the wild population be strong and healthy," said Regina Mossotti, head of animal care at the St. Louis center.

The center's financial crisis is in part because it must find a new home for its breeding program, which must move from Washington University's Tyson Research Center. The university asked the center to relocate so it could use the space to expand its own programs.

"Like many nonprofits, the EWC is facing extremely challenging financial times," Pfremmer said. "We hope the public the world over will watch these adorable pups and find it in their hearts to help us be able to afford their care."

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