Red Wolf Recovery Depends on North Carolina Experts

They are now six months old and it looks like the first litter of red cubs born into the struggling population of wild red wolves in eastern North Carolina are doing well.

Six new pups, four females and two males, were born to a pair of wild red wolves at the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, according to staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Red Wolf Recovery Program. Alligator River in April.

The proud parents of the new litter were reunited as part of the program to encourage the breeding of red wolves in the wild.

And that’s only part of North Carolina’s role in red wolf recovery.

The only two Red Wolves from the Durham Museum of Life and Science are moving to the Red Wolf Center in Columbia, North Carolina.

Eno and Ellerbe were born at the museum in April 2018. The museum is part of the Species Survival Program, a national effort by zoos and nature centers to replenish the population of critically endangered red wolves. 23 red cubs were born at the museum.

“It’s time for the boys to move on to their next home,” Sherry Samuels, director of animal care at the museum, said in a press release. “All red wolves in the recovery program are temporary residents of the zoo, museum, nature center or facility in which they reside.”

The red wolf is considered extinct

The Red Wolf Center says red wolves were found in several places in North America: from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to the Ohio River Valley, parts of New England, southern Missouri and central Texas. They were considered a major predator in these areas. Red wolves typically live in pairs or family packs, although individual wolves are described as shy and elusive.

But as humans clamored for more land for farms and towns, the red wolves were driven out of most areas. Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

But not in human care.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rounded up 14 of the remaining animals and began a breeding and release program with help from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. There are about 230 wolves spread across 49 US zoos and facilities

North Carolina Red Wolf Facilities

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, the Rowan Wild near Salisbury, the Western North Carolina Nature Center near Asheville, and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham house and care for red wolves.

“I try to view each wolf as a gift to those lucky enough to see and meet it,” Samuels said. Each pup born at the museum and other state facilities adds to the genetic diversity of the population. Two new red wolves will arrive at the Museum this fall.

Wolfpack’s wolf pack

The North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine cares for wolves injured in the wild and also injured at other facilities. The College also takes care of a pack of four wolves. Two more wolves were donated to the Red Wolf Center last year.

“NC State is uniquely positioned to get heavily involved in this aspect of conservation,” Tara Harrison, associate professor of zoo and exotic animal medicine at CVM, told Veterinary Medicine News. “We have all the experts here. We not only provide expert medical care to wild wolves and wolves in zoos and museums, but we also teach future professionals how to pursue and do this work. We’re not just making a difference today, we’re making a difference in the future.

The only wild population of red wolves is found in eastern North Carolina. The USFWS says about 20 red wolves live at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in East Lake, North Carolina.

Each summer, after the breeding and whelping season, representatives from Red Wolf Program facilities meet to survey the population, review each facility’s needs, and pair wolves based on genetic diversity.

Since all of the wolves at the facilities are descended from the original 14 animals collected by the USFWS, bringing wolf pairs together to promote genetic diversity is critical to the success of the program.

“We also look at who has empty spaces and take into consideration a facility’s needs and wants,” Chris Lasher told VMS. Lasher is the animal management supervisor at the North Carolina Zoo. He coordinates the captive breeding plan for Red Wolf Special Survival. “We look at each partner’s needs and meet the needs of the species to ensure that we maintain a genetically diverse insurance population in human care as a palliative to prevent species extinction.”


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Jennifer R. Strohm