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FL: St. Vincent wolf on the mend

By Lois Swoboda
The Apalachicola Times

A local celebrity is recovering nicely from minor surgery.

One of the St. Vincent Island’s red wolves, 5-year old #1804, broke a leg during an annual procedure. Every 12 months the wolves are trapped to receive shots and a physical evaluation.

Eastpoint veterinarian Dr. Hobson Fulmer of the Apalachicola Bay Animal Clinic described the broken leg as a typical trapping injury. To stabilize the animal, Fulmer performed surgery, his first procedure on a wolf.

“When I got home my dogs were certainly interested in me,” he said.

Fulmer then sent the animal to Kevin Drygas, a member of the University of Florida faculty, with a practice at Capital Veterinary Specialists. Drygas, a board certified orthopedic surgeon, has advanced training in the fields of minimally invasive surgery, complex fracture fixation.

Fulmer said that to his knowledge, this is only the second time in 18 years that a wolf has been injured during the annual trapping and that the breeding male was very easy to work with.

He said because #1804 is a wild animal, he has to be confined and kept clean until the pin, inserted to allow the bone to reset, can be removed and the open wound heals. The wolf’s mate #2025 and a cub, #2192, remain on St. Vincent.

Wildlife Biologist Bradley Smith, who oversees the wolf recovery project on St. Vincent, said he hopes 1804 can be returned to the island in time to breed with his mate and produce another pup this year. He said there is a limited window of opportunity for breeding. The current puppy on the island, 2192, is almost a year old.

Refuge Manager John Starke said it is important that the wolf be exposed to human beings as little as possible so he will maintain his innate shyness. The wolf is now healing well and in a safe place.

The red wolf (Canis rufus), also known as the Florida wolf or Mississippi Valley wolf, is native to the eastern United States.

Red wolves were originally distributed from the Atlantic Ocean to central Texas, and in the north from the Ohio River Valley, northern Pennsylvania and southern New York south to the Gulf of Mexico. It is now one of the world’s rarest canids. The red wolf was nearly driven to extinction by the mid-1900s due to aggressive predator-control programs, habitat destruction, and hybridization with coyotes. By the late 1960s, it occurred in small numbers on the Gulf Coast of western Louisiana and eastern Texas.

Fourteen survivors were selected to be the founders of a captive-bred population, established in the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium between 1974 and 1980. After a successful experimental relocation to Bulls Island off the coast of South Carolina in 1978, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1987, the first captive animals were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

From 1987 to 1994, the red wolf population rose to as many as 120 individuals in 2012, but had declined to 50 to 75 individuals by 2015.

Since 1990 St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge has been an island propagation site for recovery of the endangered red wolf. One breeding pair and no more than two subsequent annual litters roam freely on St. Vincent. Each red wolf is fitted with a radio telemetry collar which allows refuge staff to determine their location. These shy refuge residents are tracked daily by staff or trained volunteers, where they are much more often “heard” than seen although their tracks can frequently be spotted in the sand.