“Brookfield Zoo Gains Alpha Male Wolf, Hopes to Breed New Pack” by S.M. O’Connor

In mid-January, the Brookfield Zoo announced that a seven-year-old alpha male Mexican wolf, Apache, had arrived from the ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The staff was optimistic that he and a two-year-old female, Ela, would have a successful breeding season in February to produce a litter of cubs in the spring.  Coincidentally, Ela means “earth” in the Apache language.

LightHawke volunteer pilot Charles Yanke flew Apache to Chicago in December on a return flight after he, his wife Sandy, and co-pilot Julie Tromblay flew two wolves down from Lansing, Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  [LightHawke is a non-profit organization that partners pilots with conservation programs to facilitate the transfer of endangered species to new homes.]  “We are extremely grateful to Chuck and Julie for donating their time and services to help in the conservation efforts for the Mexican wolf,” stated Joan Daniels, Curator of Mammals for the C.Z.S. the Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.), which owns and manages the Brookfield Zoo on Cook County Forest Preserve District property.  After Apache had time to acclimate, the Brookfield Zoo staff introduced him to Ella through a fence line in January as a precaution before they placed the wolves together in Regenstein Wolf Woods.

The Mexican wolf (Latin name Canis lupus baileyi), also known as the Lobo mexicano, is a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), also known as the timber wolf.  It is the smallest wolf in North America and the most endangered gray wolf subspecies, having been extirpated in the wild in the mid-20th Century.  Even after being re-introduced into the wild, there are more than twice as many Mexican wolves in captivity than there are in the wild.  Currently, there are approximately 114 Mexican wolves in the wild in the United States of America and another thirty-one in the wild in Mexico.  They are less inclined to interbreed with coyotes than either eastern wolves (which are another subspecies of gray wolves) or red wolves (which are the product of interbreeding between gray wolves and coyotes).  Gray wolves typically breed during wintertime.

“While this is Ela’s first experience meeting a male outside of her natal pack, she is a confident wolf and we expect her to bond well with Apache,” stated Ms. Daniels.  “Ela’s familiarity with the successful den sites in the habitat at Brookfield Zoo and observations of her mother Zana rearing a litter in 2017 makes her the perfect partner for Apache.”

Due to Brookfield Zoo’s successful breeding program, the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan requested the Brookfield Zoo establish this new breeding pair and participate in ongoing reproduction studies for Mexican wolves.  [The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the multi-agency Mexican Wolf Recovery Program.]  The C.Z.S. has collaborated on two cross-fosterings of cubs born at the Brookfield Zoo; the release into the wild of one of its females, which subsequently gave birth to a litter of cubs; and participated in population-wide fertility studies that evaluated methods of improving rates of pregnancy.

Last October, all the wolves at Brookfield Zoo, with the exception of Ela, were placed at other facilities, under the auspices of the Mexican Wolf Species Survival Plan.


15129ec2-87c5-44cd-a018-40bafb5c1ccfFigure 1 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Apache is in the foreground and Ela is in the background.  The alpha male is the leader of the whole wolf pack.  The alpha male’s mate, the alpha female, will lead the other females and the cubs.  In large packs, she may also lead some of the lower-ranking adult males.

b03c4898-dff6-47c0-841b-ef1b14551c0aFigure 2 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Apache is in the foreground and Ela is in the background.  In the wild, the alphas choose when and what to hunt and the alpha male feeds first after a kill.  The alphas defend the pack against other wolf packs, as well as bears.  They settle fights between the other adults and the cubs, too.


Figure 3 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Ela is in the foreground and Apache is in the background.  A wolf pack is an extended family.  Normally, all the members are related.  The typical wolf pack has six members.  The alphas hold their heads up and raise their tails erect.  The other wolves may roll over, wriggle, crouch, lay their ears back, and tuck their tails between their hind legs to display submission before the alphas.


Figure 4 Credit: Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Ela is in the foreground and Apache is in the background.  Only the alpha male and his mate have offspring, a litter of five-to-seven cubs, born in the spring.  The entire pack cares for those cubs.


The Chicago Zoological Society is a private, non-profit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on property that belongs to the Forest Preserves of Cook County (formerly called the Forest Preserve District of Cook County).  The Website is www.CZS.org.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.) accredits the Brookfield Zoo (as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium).

The Brookfield Zoo is located in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois, about fourteen miles west of downtown Chicago.  The address of the North Gate Main Entrance is 8400 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  This is on 31st Street, west of 1st Avenue (and thus the Des Plaines River).

The address of the South Gate Main Entrance is 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  This is west of Riverside Brookfield High School.  It is within walking distance of the Hollywood Stop on the Metra’s B.N.S.F. Railway, which runs between Chicago and Aurora.






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