This is Brooke and Blaze, two Mexican gray wolves born at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. And together, they have embarked on a journey to help save their species.
Zoo officials this week said the two pups were flown to Arizona, where they were placed in a den of wild wolves where pups had also recently been born.
The Elk Horn Pack will hopefully foster Brooke and Blaze as their own, raising them to adulthood so the siblings can contribute to the genetic diversity of a dwindling population. Doing so is important given that there are just 97 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild, zoo officials say.
Blaze and Brooke represent just the second time pups born in captivity have been relocated to a wild pack under a federal reintroduction program.
The fostering — in which very young pups are moved to another litter of similar age so that the receiving pack raises them as their own — is part of a multi-agency collaboration between federal and state agencies, zoos, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, and private organizations.
Prior to departing Brookfield Zoo, the two 5-day-old Mexican gray wolf pups were given neonatal exams to make sure they were healthy and ready for their journey.
"We are extremely proud to be able to contribute to this important conservation effort for the Mexican gray wolf population," Bill Zeigler, a senior vice president for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, said in a statement.
At one point there was an estimated 4,000 Mexican gray wolves across central and northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. But anti-predator campaigns that started in the 1900s decimated the population and by 1976, they were put on the Endangered Species List.
They are now considered the rarest subspecies of gray wolves in North America, Brookfield Zoo officials said.