Durham County

Rare red wolf pups escape pen at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science

Three red wolf pups remained AWOL Monday evening after slipping out of their enclosure at the Museum of Life and Science.

The 7-week-old pups were spotted on the museum’s West Murray Avenue campus, inside the perimeter fence. The two adult wolves, along with a fourth pup, were still in their enclosure.

“We’re working on getting the pups back with their parents,” said Leslie Pepple, the museum’s communications manager. The pups are still nursing, and staff members saw them nursing through the enclosure fence.

They escaped around 10:45 a.m. possibly through a small opening in the enclosure gate, which the museum plans to reinforce. Their escape was discovered during a routine vet inspection.

“Our animal-care staff trains for just these sorts of circumstances, and we are doing all we can to minimize risks for these young pups during their time outside the safety of their enclosure,” Pepple said.

As the animal care team works to reunite the pups with their parents, much of the museum’s outdoor campus including the Dinosaur Trail, Explore the Wild, and Catch the Wind exhibit areas will remain closed. The Ellerbe Creek Railway will also remain closed.

The wolves do not pose any danger to the public, according to the museum. They are shy and avoid people and loud noises.

The pups were born April 28, the third time in 24 years that successful breeding of red wolves had occurred at the museum.

There were six pups: three males and three females. Two died in May: A male pup died from health complications, and a female pup died when her mother accidentally trapped her against their den wall.

The wolves are housed in a fenced habitat within Explore the Wild, a 6-acre site that also features black bears and lemurs. The different species do not have contact with one another.

The wolves are part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Program, a collection of zoos and nature centers around the United States dedicated to the conservation of red wolves.

Officials are asking any visitors who might see the pups during their visit to the museum to report the time and location of any spottings and to not approach them. Staff members have placed humane traps designed for live capture across the campus and put food and water near the spots where the pups were seen.

Ana Irizarry: 317-213-3553

About the red wolf

In addition to the cinnamon coat highlights which lend them their name, red wolves are smaller and more slender than gray wolves.

Adults 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 population, a managed breeding program was established in 1973 by the U.S. 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, where gunshots, car collisions, and habitat loss continue to threaten their survival.