Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Red Wolf Re-establishment Program
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reintroducing red wolves (Canis rufus) to prevent extinction of the species and to restore the ecosystems in which red wolves once occurred, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act). According to the Act, endangered and threatened species are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.
The red wolf is one of the most endangered animals in the world. It is a shy species that once roamed throughout the Southeast as a top predator. Aggressive predator control programs and clearing of forested habitat combined to cause impacts that brought the red wolf to the brink of extinction. By 1970, the entire population of red wolves was believed to be less than 100 animals confined to a small area of coastal Texas and Louisiana.
To save the species from extinction, the Service captured as many as possible of the few remaining animals from 1974 through 1980. Only 17 captured animals met the criteria established to define the species and stood between its existence and extinction. Out of the 17 captured wolves, 14 were able to successfully reproduce. These animals formed the nucleus of a captive-breeding program established at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, with the final goal of reestablishing the species in portions of its original southeastern range. Thirty-eight zoos and nature centers in 23 states now cooperate in a national breeding program and are valuable partners in efforts to restore red wolves.
Other red wolves have been released on coastal islands in Florida and South Carolina as a steppingstone between captivity and the wild. Although these islands are not large enough to provide for the needs of more than a few red wolves at a time, they provide the opportunity for them to breed and exist in the wild in order to produce animals for future mainland reintroductions.
Why is the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) restoring red wolves (Canis rufus)?
The essential reasons are to prevent extinction of the species and to restore the ecosystems in which red wolves occurred, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The ESA found that endangered and threatened species are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational and scientific value to the Nation and its people. It is important to save all members of an ecosystem, including predators, if we intend to preserve the environment and be good stewards of the land. Lessons learned in the red wolf recovery program have served as a model for predator conservation worldwide.
What do red wolves look like?
Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs, often with a reddish color on their ears, head and legs. Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves and larger than coyotes. The average adult female red wolf weighs 52 pounds (24 kg), and the average adult male weighs 61 pounds (26 kg). Red wolves have tall pointed ears and long legs with large feet. Red wolves stand about 26 inches (67 cm) at their shoulder and are about 4 ½ feet (145 cm) long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.
Did red wolves ever exist in North Carolina?
Based on fossil and archaeological evidence, the original red wolf range extended throughout the southeast, from as far north as southern New England, south to Florida and as far west as Texas and central Missouri. At least one archaeological specimen has been found in North Carolina. In addition, court records from eastern North Carolina indicate that wolf bounties were paid from 1768 to 1789.
Do red wolves hybridize with coyotes?
Red wolves, gray wolves, domestic dogs and coyotes are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. Social structures and territoriality usually prevent such interbreeding. By 1960, widespread persecution of predators and the destruction of habitat had caused a decline in red wolf numbers and the coyote began to migrate into the southeast. As a result, some of the remaining red wolves were unable to find mates of their own species and they began to hybridize with the more abundant coyote. Hybridization is usually accepted as the final factor that resulted in the near extinction of the red wolf. Given a choice, red wolves prefer red wolves as mates.
Each red wolf that is captured or released is outfitted with a collar containing a radio transmitter, which emits pulse signals or “beeps” that biologists can read with a radio receiver. These signals enable the biologists to locate the wolves. Monitoring of these signals can vary from twice daily to once a week, depending on specific circumstances.
Are red wolves a threat to humans?
Wild red wolves are shy and tend to stay away from humans. However, if threatened or cornered, wolves are capable of injuring humans. Therefore, all wildlife including red wolves should not be approached in order to avoid injury to the animal or the people involved.
What do red wolves eat?
Although the exact diet of red wolves varies depending on available prey, it usually consists of a combination of white-tailed deer, raccoons and smaller mammals such as rabbits, rodents and nutria. The red wolf can consume two to five pounds of food per day.
All wild red wolves are classified as experimental nonessential under the ESA. This designation is not intended to have an effect on individual landowner rights. In fact, legally designated habitat cannot be established for experimental nonessential species under the ESA. In the case of livestock or domestic pet depredation, relaxed regulations were passed in 1995, which allow landowners to take (kill) red wolves while depredation is occurring, provided that freshly wounded livestock or pets are evident. There are also mechanisms for landowners to be monetarily compensated if they choose to become involved with red wolf recovery. Cooperating with private landowners is an integral component of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.
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