Six endangered red wolves born in North Carolina refuge

Good News Notes:

Six critically endangered red wolves were introduced into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in coastal North Carolina.

But unlike other wolves, no one brought these new canines to the Outer Banks area as part of a federal program to recover a dying species. For the first time in four years, these red wolves were born there.

The discovery of the litter tightly huddled in an earthen den marks a significant turnaround for a red wolf rescue program that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all but abandoned a few years ago.

During a Thursday teleconference, the Red Wolf Recovery Program at the refuge informed conservation groups and others who work on behalf of the wolves that the tiny pups were in fact a red wolf litter and not coyotes, which are prevalent in and around the refuge.

The program later publicized the births in a Facebook post, saying, “This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018,” resulting from a red wolf pair doing what comes natural: “establishing their territory and mating. Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!”

But the post did not tell the backstory of why the litter of four females and two males is so improbable. Red wolf births under the recovery program became rare after Fish and Wildlife bowed to pressure from state game officials who, with little evidence, blamed the wolves for reduced deer populations and attacks on livestock.

The service executed an about-face from its 40-year mission to breed the nearly extinct animals in zoos and restore both their numbers and hunting prowess by releasing them into the wildlife refuge. Conservationists watched in shock as local hunters killed protected wolves and Fish and Wildlife accepted claims that the deaths were accidental.

When the service broke a cardinal rule and gave private property owners the right to shoot to kill wolves that strayed on their land in 2016, the Southern Environmental Law Center sued and won. In a scathing court decision two years later, a federal judge accused the service of abandoning its congressional mandate to protect red wolves and voided the permission to shoot them.

The red wolf program dates back to the Jimmy Carter administration, when the Interior Department rescued the last genetically pure red wolves from a population that had been decimated by government-sanctioned hunting.

Red wolves were so close to extinction that some mated with a natural enemy, coyotes, to perpetuate the species. The survivors were bred in zoos and, 10 years later, an experimental population was released into the North Carolina refuge in a bid to repopulate the animals in the wild.

Two breeding pairs expanded to nearly 140 in the early 2000s, a biological feat that Fish and Wildlife hailed.

But it did not last long. In the next decade, North Carolina turned on the program as state officials joined a few private landowners in calling on the federal government to end it. Pressured by the state, North Carolina’s red wolf population went into a free fall between 2012 and 2015, dropping to 50.

Meanwhile, a state program that allowed coyote hunting resulted in numerous red wolf deaths. Hunters who killed wolves claimed they mistook them for coyotes. Auto collisions killed even more wolves.

Even after the court decided in favor of the wolves in 2018, the problem got worse. The population fell from 50 to about eight when the service moved to dramatically curtail the recovery program by proposing to stop introducing wolves into the refuge and restrict the movement of the few that remained….”

View the whole story here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/04/22/red-wolves-pups-born-endangered/

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