Durham County

Rare red wolves thrive in North Carolina

Eastern North Carolina is home to the world’s only wild red wolf population.

There are about 300 red wolves in the world. Nearly 200 are captive and over 50 are in the wild, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program.

The wolves at Durham’s Museum of Life and Science – four of whom escaped Monday and were recaptured Tuesday – 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.

The museum’s adult female red wolf is recognized as the second most genetically valuable red wolf in the world. Kim Wheeler, director of eastern North Carolina’s Red Wolf Coalition said the captive wolves are important for breeding to maintain the species’ genetic integrity.

Wheeler said the survival program uses wolf genetic data to determine optimal breeding for wolves through genetic compatibility. The process aims to produce wolves that will survive in the wild and captivity.

The program moves wolves around 33 centers for mating. Museum spokeswoman Leslie Pepple said a survival program team will hold a meeting in July to determine the futures of the museum’s wolves, but the wolves will most likely be there for the next year.

Museum pups escape their enclosure

The museum’s pups possibly escaped their enclosure through a small opening in a fence. Staff members caught three of the four pups early Tuesday morning, and the final female pup was caught around noon.

Museum officials are reinforcing the area, and walking the perimeter daily to prevent a similar incident.

Pepple said the museum has not had an incident like before. But she said the animal care team has trained for such situations to make sure the pups stay healthy and safe.

While the pups were out of their enclosure, the staff left food and water on the site. The museum’s observation team spotted the father wolf feeding the pups regurgitated food through the chain-link fence. The pups are still nursing, but the museum said they were healthy when recaptured.

All the pups received health checks before being reintroduced to their habitat. The animal care team noted no injuries or dehydration but they administered fluids as a precaution.

Red wolves in North Carolina

The Red Wolf Coalition filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission in 2014. The coalition was represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. Derb Carter, director of the law center’s Chapel Hill office, said the North Carolina agency pressured the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into stopping its recovery efforts in the state.

“Unfortunately they began to allow landowners to kill wolves and then started removing them systematically,” Carter said.

The law center won the case and a federal court issued a temporary halt on the removal of the wolves.

“They agreed with us that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was violating the Endangered Species Act by abandoning the program and allowing these wolves to be taken,” Carter said.

He said the ongoing case against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aims to stop the service from allowing landowners to shoot wild red wolves and stop the service from removing the remaining red wolves.

“We’re working now to get to a final determination,” he said. “But we’ve at least been successful in stopping the killing and indiscriminate removal.”

He said the next trial is still several months away. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining what direction they want to take with the wild red wolf population in North Carolina. The service is taking comments from the public at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-R4-ES-2017-0006-000.

Ana Irizarry: 317-213-3553