The Museum of Life and Science is howling with excitement — a critically endangered red wolf has given birth to pups for the first time at the museum since 2002.
On Friday, April 28 the Museum's 6-year-old red wolf gave birth to three male and three female pups. All pups and their mother were found to be in good health by the museum's animal care team and are currently on exhibit in the museum's Explore the Wild exhibit.
Once a top predator throughout the southeastern United States and one of only two apex predators native to North Carolina, the red wolf (Canis rufus) is critically endangered with captive and wild populations totaling less than 300 individuals. The red wolves living at the Museum are a part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Recovery Program as well as the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), a collaborative breeding and management program developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to ensure the sustainability of endangered animal populations.
Known by their studbook numbers, female #1858 and male #1784 were recommended by the SSP in the summer of 2016 as a potential high value breeding pair to maintain genetic diversity within the red wolf population. The museum's female is recognized as the second most genetically valuable female red wolf alive today.
This is the first litter for female #1858. Born at the Riding Reflection Arboretum and Nature Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, she was transferred to the Museum of Life and Science in November where she joined the museum's seven-year-old male, #1784. Born at the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, the museum's male was transferred in 2014 from North Carolina State University Veterinary College where he previously sired one litter of pups.
"This is truly exciting news for the species and the museum," said Sherry Samuels, Museum of Life and Science's Animal Department Director and member of the Red Wolf SSP Management Team. "With recent developments surrounding the wild population, the responsibility of SSP institutions like the museum is more critical than ever before. Each pup is valuable for the survival of the species and represents hope for the red wolf population overall."
This is the third time in 24 years that successful breeding of red wolves has occurred at the Museum of Life and Science. The museum received its first red wolf in November 1992, followed by a litter of pups in May 1993 and another litter in April 2002.
"Both parents and pups are doing well," said Samuels, whose staff performed initial physical checkups. "There was no presence of congenital defects and all appear to be healthy, however the first 30 days are a particularly sensitive time and we will continue regular monitoring." While all wolves will remain on exhibit, the pups and mother will likely spend a majority of their time in either the provided den or one of the dens dug by the female during the gestation period.
Pups typically begin to open their eyes in 10-14 days and often venture out of the den for short periods of time around three weeks of age. At around six weeks they will begin to spend longer amounts of time out of the den, but the public should not plan to see much of them before early June. Even then, the museum's newest arrivals might be difficult to spot; red wolves are notoriously shy and can be quite reserved around crowds and loud noises. Museum staff will be present at the wolf habitat throughout the summer to answer questions and help guests stay calm, quiet, and observant.
"It will be an exciting and busy summer keeping up with this family," said Samuels "This is a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to practice the skills used by wildlife biologists observing red wolves in the wild. Quiet observation and patience will be key when viewing our new pups." All of the wolf pups will remain at the Museum for the next year and perhaps even longer, depending on the recommendations and needs of the red wolf SSP.
The museum's animal care staff will continue to monitor the health of both the pups and the adult wolf pair over the coming weeks; daily pup checks will occur throughout the first week and a hands-on veterinary check will follow as soon as possible. A preventative medicine protocol of deworming, vaccines, and general checks will occur approximately every two weeks until 16 weeks of age.
About the Red Wolf
In addition to the cinnamon coat highlights which lend them their name, red wolves are visibly smaller and more slender than gray wolves. Adult red wolves typically weigh between 45-80 pounds and can live up to 15 years in captivity, but rarely longer than seven years in the wild.
Once a top predator throughout the southeastern United States, the red wolf is now categorized as critically endangered. To protect the remaining red wolf population, a managed breeding program was established in 1973 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
The success of this breeding program led to the reintroduction of red wolves to North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987.
Red wolves now inhabit a five-county area in northeastern North Carolina and although their numbers had grown, gunshot, vehicle strikes, and habitat loss has reduced the wild population and continue to threaten their survival. The red wolf is one of Earth’s most endangered species and continues to be at risk.
About the Museum of Life and Science
Located less than five miles from downtown Durham at 433 W. Murray Ave., the Museum of Life and Science is one of North Carolina's top family destinations whose mission is to create a place of lifelong learning where people, from young child to senior citizen, embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community, and their world. Situated on 84-acres, the immersive environment of this outdoor science park and two-story science center inspire curiosity, the capacity for thinking scientifically, and the desire to learn for a lifetime.
The museum is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. To learn more, visit www.lifeandscience.org.