Originally published Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at 10:24a.m.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Wildlife managers have confirmed that a record number of Mexican gray wolves have been reported dead this year, fueling concerns about the decades-long effort to return the endangered predator to the American Southwest.

Officials say five wolves were found dead in New Mexico in November alone, bringing the total for the year to 17. It also marks one of the deadliest months in the history of the reintroduction program.

The U.S. government began releasing Mexican wolves in 1998. The latest annual survey indicated at least 114 wolves were roaming parts of Arizona and New Mexico in early 2018.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating but hasn’t said how the animals died.

Environmentalists who are critical of the program’s management say those losses need to be stemmed and more captive wolves should be released.

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