By ELI CHEN
Animal conservationists near St. Louis are planning to breed red wolves, the rarest species of wolves on the planet, at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
The Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, which provides refuge for endangered wolf species, has been working with A-State to raise awareness of red wolves in recent year. The species became A-State’s mascot in 2008, after it retired its former mascot, the Indian Family.
Conservationists and university officials plan to build a red wolf breeding center in the next three years to house four or five pairs of wolves. Red wolves were once found in many parts of the eastern U.S., but only 30 wolves remain in the wild, on the North Carolina coast. About 200 live in captivity in sanctuaries such as the Endangered Wolf Center.
“One of the things that really resonated with our president was that there are more red wolves on our football team than there are in the wild,” said Tom Risch, an animal ecology professor and interim associate vice chancellor of research at A-State.
The breeding center would be funded by private grants from foundations, as opposed to state and tuition funds, Risch added. University officials plan to build it on A-State’s property and ensure that it is fenced with video surveillance.
Habitat destruction and the U.S. government’s aggressive predator control programs in the mid-20th century have driven down the red wolf’s numbers.
“Wolves are an apex species and they play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems healthy and balanced, so in turn, they also keep us healthy,” said Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center.
A-State’s slogan is “Every red wolf counts.” All freshmen are also given a copy of the book, The Secret World of Red Wolves, which documents the red wolf reintroduction efforts in North Carolina.
“Our hope with Arkansas State University’s property is that they can breed animals there and work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce them into the southeastern United States,” Mossotti said.