October 25, 2012
A Mexican gray wolf who has lived at Brookfield Zoo since 2010 will leave this week to prepare to enter the wild, joining 58 of the endangered animals roaming free in New Mexico and Arizona.
On Saturday, Ernesta will be taken to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM, according to the Chicago Zoological Society. The goal is to bolster the population of a species once on the verge of extinction.
She will then choose a mate and the pair will receive survival skills conditioning — a sort of pre-release boot camp — to prepare them for life in the wild, according to a release from CZS.
The boot camp is to assure the wolves are good candidates for release. Biologists will observe Ernesta and her mate as they slowly transition to feedings that mimic wild wolf food patterns, such as eating native prey (road-kill deer and elk); and experience the natural condition of feeding only every several days, the release said.
They will also go through a process of taste aversion to beef so they will avoid cattle ranches once released.
Natural wolf behaviors have been encouraged since Ernesta first arrived at Brookfield Zoo, the release said. This includes keepers not interacting with wolves; and feeding them native prey such as elk and bison.