The Race Against Time
  The Species Survival Plan (SSP) strategy has been one of the cornerstones of wildlife conservation efforts of the AZA and their member facilities.   The days of removing thousands of plants and animals from the wild to place on exhibition are a thing of the past and the majority of the animals you may see today are being successfully bred in captivity.  Since 1980, the SSP program has been successful in supporting wildlife and habitat preservation through public education, scientific research, and field studies when using the latest technologies are ensuring a species survival, even when eminent doom may be looming ahead.  Species such as the California condor, the black-footed ferret and the Mexican wolf are three such examples.  

The mission of the Mexican gray wolf Species Survival Plan is to support the reestablishment of the Mexican wolf in the wild through captive breeding, public education, and research.

In 1976, the Mexican gray wolf, Canis lupus baileyi, was listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), which requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation and survival of listed species. In 1979, the Mexican Wolf Recovery Team was formed and prepared the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. This plan was approved in 1982 and contains the following objective:

"To conserve and ensure the survival of C. l. baileyi by maintaining a captive breeding
program and reestablishing a viable, self-sustaining population of at least 100 Mexican wolves in
the middle to high elevations of a 5,000-square-mile area within the Mexican wolf's historic range."


In 2003, when the USFWS restructured the Endangered Species listing of the gray wolf, the
Mexican gray wolf within the Southwestern Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segment was still
considered endangered. Also in 2003, the Service convened a new Recovery Team to revise the
outdated 1982 Recovery Plan. The new plan will contain delisting and down-listing goals and is
expected to be completed in 2006. The objective of the Mexican gray wolf SSP© is to recover the species to secure population levels, maintain those levels, and then remove them from the endangered list. Under a joint agreement between the United States and Mexico, five Mexican wolves were captured from the wild in Durango and Chihuahua, Mexico between 1977 and 1980. These wolves established a certified captive breeding population that is now managed for the USFWS by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species


Survival Plan Program in 47 zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the U.S. and Mexico as of 23 July 2004. In 1995, two additional lineages of captive gray wolves were genetically determined to be Mexican gray wolves and added to the captive breeding program.

An SSP Master Plan outlines the goals for the population. It designs the "family tree" of a
particular captive population in order to achieve maximum genetic diversity and demographic
stability. Breeding and other management recommendations are made for each animal with
consideration given to the logistics and feasibility of transfers between institutions, as well as
maintenance of natural social groupings. Often, Master Plans include recommendations not to
breed animals, so as to avoid having the population outgrow the available holding space.

Many SSP's have developed husbandry manuals, which set guidelines based on the best current
scientific knowledge for the diet and care of the species in captivity. With standardized practices, it is easier to detect potential health and husbandry problems. In addition, because the guidelines
provide consistency among participating institutions, it is also easier to transfer animals between institutions when necessary.


Studbooks are fundamental to the successful operation of SSP's, as each contains the vital records of an entire captive population of a species. With appropriate computer analysis, a studbook enables the species coordinator and management group to develop a Master Plan that contains sound breeding recommendations based on genetics, demographics, and the species biology.

The combination of a Master plan, husbandry manual and the studbook are all essential components to this unique SSP.  Add in the ambitious objectives and goals of recovery to it’s historic range, and the Mexican gray wolf has a steep road ahead to become successful.  It is not only important for the SSP to maintain a genetically healthy population in captivity, but to also be

  successful in re-establishing a viable population of Mexican wolves in the wilderness of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  Only time, and human tolerance, will tell us what the level of success will be.