CHICAGO, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- A Mexican gray wolf that has lived at a Chicago zoo since 2010 will join 58 of the endangered animals roaming free in New Mexico and Arizona, officials said.
The wolf, named Ernesta, will be taken Saturday to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Wolf Management Facility at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, N.M., officials with the Chicago Zoological Society said.
Ernesta will choose a mate there and the pair will receive survival skills conditioning to prepare them for release into the wild, a society release said.
Natural wolf behaviors have been encouraged since Ernesta first arrived at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo, officials said, making her a good candidate for eventual release.
Biologists will monitor Ernesta and her chosen mate as they slowly transition to feedings that mimic wild wolf food patterns such as eating native prey, including road-kill deer and elk, and experience the natural process of feeding only every several days, they said.
Mexican gray wolves, the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies of North American gray wolves, were listed as endangered in 1976.
"Ernesta's potential transfer into the wild is an important step to help foster genetic diversity within the re-introduced population to allow this species to survive," said Joan Daniels Tantillo, Chicago Zoological Society associate curator of animals.