Durham County

Museum’s red wolves — mom, dad, 4 pups — now at new home in New York State

Watch wolf pups learning to howl at Museum of Life and Science

Watch and listen as red wolf pups at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. learn to howl from their parents and learning to howl at age 7 weeks.
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Watch and listen as red wolf pups at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. learn to howl from their parents and learning to howl at age 7 weeks.

The Museum of Life and Science transferred a family of six endangered red wolves (Canis rufus) to an expanded, one-acre habitat at the Wolf Conservation Center of South Salem, New York.

Sherry Samuels, the museum’s animal director, and a volunteer made the trip in one day earlier this week, said Leslie Pepple, museum communications manager. The two made the trip in one day with as few stops as possible so as to keep the wolves comfortable, she said.

The family consists of two adults and four pups who were born at the Museum in late April. The transferred red wolf family will remain together for another breeding season at the Wolf Conservation Center, the museum stated in a release.

Before the trip, each wolf received a hands-on veterinary check to verify health and to collect samples for three research projects — a genetic mapping project, a project investigating Irritable Bowel Disease in red wolves, and an ongoing study led by the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine examining progressive retinal atrophy, a degenerative disease causing vision loss and blindness in red wolves.

Blood collected from all six wolves was sent to the Arkansas Center for Biodiversity Collections as a part of an increased commitment from Arkansas State University to support red wolf conservation. The center has committed to serving as a biologics bank shared by partners across the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan. Arkansas’ resource depositary is similar to that of the University of New Mexico’s Museum of Southwestern Biology, which houses specimens of the endangered Mexican wolf for use in global conservation efforts.

The Museum of Life and Science veterinary team collected cheek swabs from each wolf and sent them to a team from NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine working to determine if exotic animals of the Canidae family, such as the red wolf, have a mutated gene collection known as the ABCB1-1Δ gene.

The ability to identify the presence of this gene would help guide dosing recommendations for frequently used sedatives. Accidental overdosing in species with mutated ABCB1-1Δ genes can lead to difficult recoveries, respiratory complications, and death.

Fecal samples were sent to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute as part of an ongoing study exploring the connection between gut microbiomes and inflammatory bowel diseas, a debilitating disease commonly found in red wolves.

All six wolves also received a hands-on ophthalmological exam by the NSCU research team investigating progressive retinal atrophy, a degenerative disease resulting in vision loss and blindness. PRA often occurs in mature red wolves which can negatively impact breeding success during prime reproductive years.

Blood samples collected as a part of the PRA study will help the team better understand the genetics of this condition with the goal of making future breeding matches that further reduce or eliminate this condition in the red wolf population.

“The responsibility of participating in this type of conservation effort means we are charged with not only providing a high level of care for those wolves currently in our care, but we have a responsibility to do the same for future generations too,” said Samuels, Museum of Life and Science’s Animal Department director and member of the Red Wolf SSP Management Team. “Continually investigating the threats and diseases facing this fragile species is a key part in ensuring there are red wolves in the future.”

All red wolves living at the Museum are a part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Red Wolf SSP — a collaborative breeding and management program developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to ensure the sustainability of endangered animal populations. Once a top predator throughout the southeastern United States and one of only two apex predators native to North Carolina, the red wolf is critically endangered with captive and wild populations totaling less than 300 individuals.

The departure of the museum’s previous red wolf family is followed by the arrival of a new breeding pair in preparation for the 2018 breeding season. Both red wolves will make their public debut in the coming weeks as they adjust to their new surroundings.

Known by his Red Wolf Species Survival Plan studbook number of 1803, the museum’s new male was born May 2010 at the Wolf Conservation Center and has previously sired two litters of pups. The museum’s new female, studbook number 2062, was born April 2014 at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine and transferred to the museum from the N.C. Zoological Park in Asheboro. This is her first time being paired for breeding.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1