Endangered red wolf pups went missing from Durham's Museum of Life and Science in June
Six red wolves will migrate north in early November to a new home with room for their growing family.
Red wolves, once a top predator in the southeastern United States, are critically endangered with fewer than 300 known wolves among both captive and wild populations. A breeding pair at the Museum of Life and Science gave birth to six pups in late April; four survived.
Three of the pups created a commotion in June when they slipped out of their enclosure at the museum. They were quickly returned and found to be in excellent health during their last “well pup” check this month, museum officials said.
The museum is preparing them now for transfer to the one-acre Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, as part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program partnering U.S. zoos and nature centers dedicated to saving red wolves.
“This transfer is going to be bittersweet for us all,” said Sherry Samuels, the Durham museum’s Animal Department director and a member of the Red Wolf SSP Management Team.
“I know many people, myself included, have become incredibly attached to the pups; it’s been wonderful watching the family grow and thrive here, but we recognize that this transition is what’s best for the family and ultimately what is best for the red wolf species as a whole,” she said. “With recent developments surrounding the wild population, the responsibility of SSP institutions and the captive breeding program is more critical than ever before – this family has a big role to play in what happens next for the species.”
A new wolf breeding pair will move into the vacated Durham habitat, a fenced-in area within the Explore the Wild exhibit that also includes separate areas for lemurs and black bears.
Museum staff will drive the wolf family to their new home Nov. 6. Each pup will be partnered with a sibling in the transfer crate to reduce stress, officials said, and the team conduct a visual inspection of the family every four hours. The number of stops will be limited, they said.
The parents are expected to breed at least once more in their new home. Red wolf families in the wild often include the parents and one or two generations of offspring. Pups typically start leaving their parents between 6 and 18 months old.
“We also realize that it's best to have the family in an exhibit area with additional space to accommodate future growth; fortunately, we were able to come up with a plan that made all of this possible,” Samuels said.
The private, not-for-profit Wolf Conservation Center promotes wolf conservation through programs emphasizing wolf biology, the ecological benefits of wolves and current wolf recovery in the United States. The center also works to save the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf.
Red wolves are named for their cinnamon-colored coat highlights and are visibly smaller and more slender than gray wolves, museum officials said. They typically weigh between 45 and 80 pounds and can live up to 15 years in captivity, but rarely longer than seven years in the wild.
Red wolves once roamed across the southeastern United States and have been reintroduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina for the past two decades. However, hunting, cars and habitat loss continue to threaten their survival, wildlife officials said.