2 red wolves moved to refuge to counter coyote interbreeding
Sunday, September 29, 2002
BY LYNNE LANGLEY
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The two young red wolves from Bull’s Island are doing well
their move last Tuesday to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in
northeastern North Carolina.
“We will be making a decision within two months about when and
where they will be released,” said Bud Fazio, team leader of the federal
Red Wolf Recovery Program.
Fazio expects the wolves to play an important role in the
against invading coyotes, which have jeopardized the red wolf species and
“By interbreeding (with red wolves), coyotes threaten to breed
red wolves out of existence,” Fazio said.
The two 18-month-old wolves, a male and a female, most likely
will be placed in areas where coyotes have been removed or sterilized,
Fazio said. “We have several potential settings.”
Coyotes, non-natives that moved east into the refuge in the
or mid-1990s, began interbreeding with less numerous red wolves that had
been reintroduced there.
In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked a group of
scientists to assess the situation. They predicted that red wolves would
become unrecognizable as a separate species within 12 to 14 years if
interbreeding was not controlled.
The scientists made recommendations, and USFWS adopted an
Adaptive Management Plan to deal with coyotes and save endangered red
“We have made good progress. The number of coyotes in the area
has declined,” Fazio said of the 1.7 million acres designated for
experimental red wolves.
The easternmost of three zones, which includes Alligator River
near Manteo, is totally free of coyotes. Zone Two has only sterilized
coyotes, which are holding established territories until the program has
red wolves to place in their stead, Fazio explained.
Zone Three, the western area, has a lot of sterilized coyotes
more immigrants moving in.
“We have demonstrated (coyotes) are a threat that can be
managed,” he said. Some hybrids remain in the wild but have been
The plan also calls for increasing red wolves, which is where
Bull’s Island pups come in this year and in the future, Fazio expects.
Biologists will assess the health and behavior of both wolves,
and the field team will monitor the wild population to determine suitable
Most likely each wolf will be placed in a temporary pen in a
strategic location, Fazio said. Wolves living in the area will smell the
new arrival and come to meet it. “He’ll make a lot of friends.”
They will include a potential mate, said Fazio.
Until now, pups born on Bull’s Island were moved to Alligator
River at about 9 months of age. Biologists chose the wolf’s mate and
introduced them. This year the wolves will make their own decision, a pair
bond that normally lasts a lifetime.
About 75 of the 100 red wolves living in the wild in North
Carolina wear radio-tracking collars, as do the Bull’s Island wolves.
Biologists can keep track of activity and signs of bonding from a
“At the appropriate time, we will open the door,” said Fazio.
The ideal time is fall to winter. “That’s when they begin to
flirt,” said biologist Shauna Baron, program outreach coordinator.
The Bull’s Island wolves could be ready to reproduce this
but might wait a year to have pups. Meanwhile, each would be getting to
know his new home from his mate, born in the wilds of Alligator River.
At 18 months, this year’s wolves would normally leave their
parents to find a mate and establish a territory.
This spring red wolves had nine litters of pups in the recovery
area, 40 pups in all.
One female also adopted two zoo-born pups, just 2 weeks old.
already had two pups of her own the same age but had raised a litter of
six the year before. In May a male and a female from a litter of six
whelped at North Carolina Zoological Park were placed in her wild den.
Bull’s Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the
place that red wolves were ever returned to the wild, currently serves as
a breeding site where pups are born and grow up in the wild. A pair of red
wolves on an island in St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in Florida
also will produce pups for Alligator River, Fazio expects.
To survive in the wild, red wolves must learn how to avoid
alligators, black bears, vehicles, farm equipment and other perils, Fazio
said. A wolf born and growing up in the wild is thought to have a better
chance than a zoo-born wolf. The recovery program manages a population of
147 captive wolves in 20 states, however, as a safety net for the wild
The recovery effort began after the red wolf was listed as
endangered in 1967. Decades of predator control shrank the worldwide
population to fewer than 100 animals in a small area of coastal Texas and
Louisiana. Coyotes delivered the final blow by interbreeding.
To save red wolves from extinction, Fish and Wildlife held a
roundup; blood tests proved only 17 were purebred rather than hybrids.
Those 17 began the captive breeding program that continues today.
In 1987, four pair of captive-born red wolves were released
Alligator River. The next year, a litter was born in the wild there.
Also in 1988, the pair of wolves on Bull’s Island produced two
male pups, which were moved to Alligator River. One, officially named Wolf
331M, became the alpha male of the Milltail pack and survived what is
considered an astonishing 13 years, considerably longer than his
In a recent publication, the program hailed the Bull’s Island
wolf as an old friend:
“His contribution to the wild population and his will to
will not soon be forgotten. In 12 years he sired more than 20 red wolf
pups, and his heritage now stretches through four generations. With the
arrival of this year’s puppies, his memory lives on as his new
grandchildren take their place in the wild red wolf population.”
Said Fazio, “If you look at the big picture, the red wolf
has come a long way since the ’60s, when there were 17 left in the world
and the species was almost extinct. It takes a long time, but it is time