Six Endangered Red Wolves Born in a North Carolina Shelter

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Six critically endangered red wolves have been introduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the North Carolina coast.

But unlike other wolves, no one brought these new dogs to the Outer Banks region as part of a federal program to recover a dying species. For the first time in six years, these red wolves were born there.

The discovery of the tightly packed litter in an earthen den marks a significant turnaround for a red wolf rescue program that the US Fish and Wildlife Service all but abandoned a few years ago.

During a teleconference Thursday, the red wolf recovery program at the refuge informed conservation groups and others who work on behalf of wolves that the pups were actually a litter of red wolf and not coyotes, which are prevalent in and around the refuge.

The government let locals kill nearly extinct wolves. A court said stop.

The program then went public with the births in a Facebook post, saying, “This new litter is the first litter of red wolves born in the wild since 2018,” resulting from a pair of red wolves doing the natural thing: “to establish their territory and mate. Each generation gives new hope to the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!

But the message did not explain why the litter of four females and two males is so unlikely. Births of red wolves under the recovery program have become rare after Fish and Wildlife bowed to pressure from state hunting officials who, with little evidence, blamed wolves for declining populations deer and attacks on livestock.

The service has made an about-face after its 40-year mission to raise nearly extinct animals in zoos and restore both their numbers and hunting prowess by releasing them back into the wildlife refuge. Conservationists watched in shock as local hunters killed protected wolves and Fish and Wildlife accepted claims the deaths were accidental.

When the service broke a cardinal rule and gave private landowners the right to shoot to kill roaming wolves on their land in 2016, the Southern Environmental Law Center sued and won. In a scathing court ruling two years later, a federal judge accused the service of abandoning its congressional mandate to protect red wolves and rescinded authorization to shoot them.

Red wolves may be disappearing in the wild – again.

The red wolf program dates back to the Jimmy Carter administration, when the Department of the Interior rescued the last genetically pure red wolves from a population that had been decimated by government-sanctioned hunting.

Red wolves were so close to extinction that some mated with a natural enemy, coyotes, to perpetuate the species. The survivors were bred in zoos, and 10 years later an experimental population was released into the North Carolina refuge with the aim of repopulating the animals in the wild.

Two breeding pairs increased to nearly 140 in the early 2000s, a biological feat that Fish and Wildlife hailed.

But it didn’t last long. Over the next decade, North Carolina activated the program as state officials joined a few private landowners in calling on the federal government to end it. Under state pressure, North Carolina’s red wolf population plummeted between 2012 and 2015, dropping to 50.

Meanwhile, a state program allowing coyote hunting resulted in the death of many red wolves. Hunters who have killed wolves have claimed they mistook them for coyotes. Car collisions killed even more wolves.

Even after the court ruled in favor of Wolves in 2018, the problem worsened. The population dropped from 50 to about eight when the service decided to drastically scale back the recovery program by proposing to stop introducing wolves to the refuge and restrict the movements of the few that remained.

Scientists say government’s new plan to deal with red wolves is ‘backward’

“The red wolf has hit rock bottom as a wild species… just as humanity is heading into the depths of the pandemic,” said Ron Sutherland, chief scientist at the Wildlands Network, which fights to protect wildlife. wolves. “The red wolf was nothing but a ghost of a species at that time, clinging to reality only thanks to the 200 captive animals scattered in zoos across the country.”

And then, “against all odds,” Sutherland said, “the red wolf found high-ranking supporters in Biden’s Interior Department.”

In November last year, Fish and Wildlife backtracked and withdrew the 2018 proposal. The court verdict, the agency said, gave it the power to use captive red wolves to restore a population. which once roamed the entire eastern United States and parts of Louisiana and Texas.

On April 12, the program recorded what it called a milestone: the release of a family of red wolves to a remote area of ​​the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina’s Inner Banks. The family of four – a 6-year-old breeding pair, their 2-year-old female and 1-year-old male – were moved to the shelter in Salisbury, North Carolina.

There was actually a study to determine if red wolves are wolves. Verdict: they are

A week later on Tuesday, workers at the recovery program confirmed the litter of six, the offspring of a mother identified with the number 2225 and a father with the number 2323.

The male was one of two wolves that were moved to the Alligator River Sanctuary from St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in December 2020, Fish and Wildlife officials said. Weeks after being released from an acclimation pen the following year in February, the male fled from a coyote that was stalking around a younger female, took her place and established a territory.

“The two red wolves have been paired,” the program noted at the time, “giving biologists hope that they will produce cubs in the spring of 2022.”

The couple did not disappoint.

“When I saw the picture of these puppies all huddled together under tree roots, my heart almost exploded with happiness,” Sutherland said. “And now, all of a sudden, I think they have a future again. These puppies can save their species, if humans do their job and if humans leave them alone.

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