An endangered red wolf at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium celebrated Mother’s Day by becoming a mother herself, birthing at least six pups and bringing legitimacy to a nearly 40-year-old program intended to save the wolves from extinction.
Millie, 8, went into labor about 10 p.m. Sunday in an out-of-view den at the Red Wolf Woods exhibit, producing two healthy male pups. She whelped at least four more pups Monday.
The pups, fathered by 9-year-old Graham, each weighed about 13 ounces at birth. Their genders and condition were not yet known Tuesday. Zoo staff members hope to enter the den Wednesday to check on them.
“It gives us an opportunity to highlight the program and let the folks who visit the zoo, and the community, know about our involvement in the program and some of the challenges that red wolves still face,” said Will Waddell, the zoo’s Red Wolf program coordinator.
The pups will stay with their parents for at least a year before zoo biologists decide whether they should remain at Point Defiance or be sent to other breeding facilities.
In the meantime, zoo officials are trying to set up a closed-circuit camera feed so the public can view the wolf family. Waddell said the pups could emerge from their den in three to four weeks, but it is up to them when to explore other areas of the 2-year-old exhibit.
This is the first litter of red wolves born on zoo grounds in 29 years. However, hundreds of pups have been produced at off-site breeding facilities since 1973. On May 7, a red wolf named Lupine bore nine pups – seven females and two males – at a facility near Eatonville.
The first-ever litter born at Point Defiance occurred in 1977 under the red wolf recovery program. That was a turning point for the species, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared biologically extinct in the wild in 1980. At the time, an estimated 14 red wolves remained.
Today, nearly 200 red wolves are in captivity in the United States.
The wolves were reintroduced to the wild 25 years ago. Nowadays, about 100 can be found in the Red Wolf Recovery Area in northeastern North Carolina. All are descendants of red wolves born through the breeding and recovery program.
Officials said the wolves still are threatened, mostly by humans. That’s why the breeding program is so critical, Waddell said.
It is a cooperative effort among 41 U.S. zoos and wildlife centers and the Fish and Wildlife Service. There are about 196 wolves at participating facilities, including 37 pups born in nine litters this spring.
“The births provide a remarkable opportunity for our visitors to connect with this species and for all of us to aid in their conservation,” said Karen Goodrowe Beck, the zoo’s general curator.
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