JONESBORO – Arkansas State University in July will host the national organization that manages efforts to grow the critically endangered American red wolf population as the university considers development of an educational breeding facility in Jonesboro.
A-State joins the ASU System, the Little Rock Zoo and the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Mo., to bring the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) annual meeting to Little Rock July 23-25. The meeting brings together leaders of over 40 facilities across the country that protect and breed the approximately 200 red wolves in captivity. The Red Wolf SSP partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service announced in September 2016 that the captive population must be doubled prior to consideration of a new recovery effort in the wild.
In July 2017, A-State announced plans to leverage its educational, research and communication resources to increase its national role in the preservation of the endangered American red wolf species. Its Arkansas Center for Biodiversity Collections is designated by the FWS as the national specimen bank for blood and tissues samples for red wolves. This collection will play an important role in future research and conservation efforts.
Jeff Hankins, vice president for strategic communications and economic development in the ASU System, said preliminary discussions have begun for A-State to develop and manage a breeding facility in Jonesboro at Craighead Forest Park. The effort would be funded through private fund-raising, sponsorships and conservation grants in cooperation with the City of Jonesboro.
“We see a significant opportunity to develop an amazing research center for our wildlife ecology students and faculty while escalating our educational role in the conservation of the American red wolf,” Hankins said. “It would also become an ecotourism draw for Jonesboro and northeast Arkansas and complement the efforts of the Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center at Craighead Forest.”
Dr. Thomas Risch, interim associate vice chancellor of research and professor of animal ecology, will be among the presenters at the SSP national meeting. He will update participants on the work of the national specimen bank and discuss the efforts of A-State’s new Red Wolves for Red Wolves organization. Risch and Hankins will also solicit information regarding best practices for breeding facility operations.
“A hands-on opportunity to actively assist in the population growth of the most endangered wolf in the world would be a coup for our biology students and faculty,” Risch said. “Our goal is to house four pairs of red wolves and ultimately their pups. One pair would be on exhibit for the public, while the other pens would be set up to maximize breeding. I’m happy that our university, and in particular our wildlife ecology students, has accepted an important role in protecting a species that is also our beloved mascot.”
Risch has been invited to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this summer to assist scientists from all over the country in their efforts to create a new recovery plan for red wolves.
A breeding site would include extensive fencing and video surveillance, as well as daily staff oversight, to ensure safety for the red wolves and public. Hankins said private funding would have to be secured for capital, operating and staffing costs and estimates are still being developed. The effort would also require support and approval from local, state and federal officials.
Hankins said A-State’s efforts are being recognized nationally by conservation leaders.
“We’re in a unique position to educate our students, state and alumni about the plight of the endangered American red wolves, which are native to Arkansas and the southeastern U.S.,” said Hankins, adding that the developer of the Red Wolf Convention Center has agreed to consider an educational exhibit for visitors which would include a live video feed from the breeding center. “Our Red Wolves athletics program significantly enhances these efforts with prominent national media attention for the red wolf name.”
A-State has embraced Chancellor Kelly Damphousse’s overall university theme of “Every Red Wolf Counts” that includes not only all university constituencies, but also the actual endangered species.
“I visited the Endangered Wolf Center near St. Louis earlier this week, and I’m excited about the possibility of a breeding site in Jonesboro,” Damphousse said. “Arkansas State can have a major impact on red wolf education, research and conservation. We look forward to working with the city and other interested partners to determine whether this is a project we can bring to fruition.”