Project restores red wolves

Published 1:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Red wolves like this one call eastern North Carolina home thanks to a project to restore the red-wolf population. (Photo used by permission of Red Wolf Coalition/Greg Koch photographer)

Eastern North Carolina is an area known for its endangered wildlife species, including the red wolf.

This species has faced a number of challenges over the years, and red-wolf advocacy organizations have worked to keep the animal from becoming extinct.

Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition Inc., said red wolves have faced problems for many years.

“Red-wolf restoration began in 1962 when the scientific community recognized that the red wolf was in danger of extinction. At that time, the only known wild red-wolf population was in the Texas/Louisiana area,” she said. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began studying the population in that area in 1968, and the first wild red wolves were placed into captivity in 1969 at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Wash. The current wild population is 110 to130 animals. The wild red-wolf population is monitored by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Red Wolf Recovery Team, which has done so since the introduction of eight red wolves in 1987.”

Once removed from the wild, red wolves were considered extinct until the reintroduction of eight red wolves at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. These red wolves were the first born in captivity to be released into the wild. The first litter of wild red wolves was born in the wild in 1988.

The only wild population of red wolves in North Carolina is in the northeastern counties of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington. Those wolves live on 1.7 million acres that include three wildlife refuges and private lands. The wolves inhabit a higher percentage of private land than public, so the Red Wolf Recovery Team is in touch frequently with landowners where red wolves reside.

Some private landowners in eastern North Carolina object to red wolves inhabiting their properties, saying the wolves could attack livestock and pets.

The Red Wolf Coalition is building a red wolf-viewing enclosure in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Tyrell County.

Wheeler said efforts to keep red wolves alive are not limited to North Carolina.

“There are 40 species survival plan facilities across the United States. These locations serve as breeding and viewing facilities for the red wolf. The original goal of the red-wolf recovery plan was to have 220 animals in the wild, located in three different areas, and 330 animals in the captive population,” she said. “We currently have only one location of wild red wolves. The program continues to look for other restoration sites throughout the historical territory of the red wolf.”

Wheeler said red wolves are often mistaken for coyotes. She said it is open season for hunting coyotes in North Carolina, which increases the chances of a red wolf being mistaken for a coyote, shot and killed. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission gave out red wolf/coyote hunter-education cards to people taking hunter-education classes.

Red wolves and coyotes often interbreed, creating red-wolf populations that are not purebred. Efforts are under way to address this problem.