U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a $2,500 reward for
information about the January 18 shooting death of a critically
endangered red wolf (Canis rufus) in North Carolina. The wolf,
which wore a radio collar around its neck, was at least the 10th member
of his species illegally shot and killed in the past 14 months. Fewer
than 120 red wolves live in the wild today.
The deaths have been a terrible setback for the Red Wolf Recovery Program,
which in addition to the wild population also maintains nearly 200
captive wolves in breeding facilities across the country. Red wolves
used to live throughout the southeastern U.S. but were hunted into near
extinction by the 1960s in order to protect livestock. The last 400
wolves in the region were brought into the captive breeding program in
1973. Most of them were found to be hybrids with coyotes (C. latrans),
which started migrating to the area in the 1960s, leaving just 14
closely related pureblood individuals to form the founder population
from which all of today’s wolves are descended.
The wolves living in the wild today—all in northeastern North
Carolina—are part of what is designated as an experimental, nonessential
population, much like the Mexican gray wolves (C. lupus baileyi)
that have been released into Arizona and New Mexico. This means they
can be recaptured whenever any of the animals interfere with human
activities, although that rarely happens with the red wolves.
Despite their name, red wolves actually only have a touch of red on
their ears, heads and legs. They are a little bit smaller than gray
wolves and a little bit bigger than coyotes, for which they are often
mistaken. In fact, many of the recent deaths have been attributed to
people shooting at coyotes, an activity has become more common since the
inception of a controversial new rule that for the first time allowed
night hunting of coyotes using spotlights. The rule went into effect on
August 1, 2012, and by November 14 four wolves had been killed. “There
are a certain number of people who do mistakenly shoot these animals,
but there are also a good number of people who know they are shooting
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Officer Frank
Simms told The Chronicle
last November after the fourth killing. “In both circumstances they are
investigated equally, regardless.” Later that month several
conservation groups successfully filed a request to block nighttime coyote hunting in the five North Carolina counties in which red wolves can be found.
The species is protected under the Endangered Species Act; anyone
convicted of killing one of the animals faces a year in prison and a
$100,000 fine. Anyone with information on this latest red wolf death—or
any past or future deaths—may contact Simms at (252) 216-7504, FWS
Special Agent Sandra Allred at (919) 856-4786 or North Carolina Wildlife
Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at (252) 216-8225.
For more information about the recovery program check out their Return of the Red Wolf blog,
which most recently covered efforts to pair a newly transferred male
with a female whose mate was among those killed last year. For a more
detailed look at the species, wait until this June, when science writer
T. DeLene Beeland’s book on the animals, The Secret World of Red Wolves, will be published by University of North Carolina Press.
Photo: A captive red wolf at the Virginia Living Museum, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service