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Museum howls for joy as 6 red wolf pups enter world

Museum howls for joy as 6 red wolf pups enter world

Museum howls for joy as 6 red wolf pups enter world

By JIM SHAMP : The Herald-Sun
Apr 10, 2002 : 9:49 pm ET

DURHAM — Six red wolf pups were born Wednesday morning at Durham’s Museum
of Life and Science.

Three males and three females, ranging from a half pound to nearly one
pound, were born to a pair of the endangered canines at the museum, said
animal director Sherry Samuels. All appear healthy, she said, including
the runt of the litter.

“This is first I’ve heard about it. That’s great!” said Buddy Fazio, team
leader of the red wolf recovery program operated by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, when contacted by The Herald-Sun.

There are about 300 red wolves total, said Fazio, a full-time wolf man,
from his Manteo office. The Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for
endangered species on land, he said, and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration oversees sea life.

Fazio’s organization provided the 4-year-old “papa” wolf from the
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in February 2001. The wolf’s
5-year-old mate came to Durham from the N.C. Zoological Park in Asheboro a
month later.

This is the second time red wolves have bred successfully at the museum
since its first ones arrived in November 1992, resulting in a litter of
pups in May 1993.

“This is truly exciting news for the species and for the Red Wolf Species
Survival Plan,” concurred the museum’s president and CEO, Thomas Krakauer.
“To now have eight of the world’s most endangered animals here is also
very exciting for the museum and our visitors. again.”

The pups should open their eyes in about two weeks, said Samuels, and may
start to wander from the den two weeks after that. They’ll start to spend
time outside the den in about six weeks, she said, so the naturally shy
critters are unlikely to get public scrutiny until late next month.

“We tried to get in and out quickly this morning because we didn’t want to
be too intrusive,” Samuels said Wednesday.

The Durham museum’s wolves are part of a captive rearing program at more
than 30 facilities, said Fazio. The exact number varies by one or two each
year, he said, depending on the needs of the program. The Western N.C.
Nature Center in Asheville and the N.C. Zoo are the other state sites

“The idea is we’re maintaining a captive population to conserve the total
pool of genetics that represents the red wolf species,” he explained. “The
captive animals, in addition to maintaining genetic diversity, are used in
other ways. For example, we’re looking for opportunities to bring newborn
pups into ‘captive fostering’ in the wild, to enhance the population

In other words, the pups at the Durham museum could be moved to the
wildlands along the northeastern North Carolina coast if a pair of wild
adults there were to lose its litter.

“That’s been done in captivity,” said Fazio, “and we’re preparing to try
it this year in the wild. We’re just getting into whelping season, which
occurs during April and May.”

Another aspect of the captive breeding program involves placement of small
packs of wolves on Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife
Refuge in South Carolina, Horn Island in the Gulf Islands National
Seashore in Mississippi, and St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in

“We allow a pair to give birth on the islands, away from human contact,”
said Fazio. “Those young grow up to have wild behavior. About the time
they’ re teen-agers, ready to disperse, we’ll insert them into the
population here on the mainland.” That’s an effort to maintain genetic
diversity and preserve wild instincts in the animals, he said.

Some have questioned whether the red wolf is a distinct species — a
controversy fueled by a scientific paper about 10 years ago. But Fazio is

“Over time that’ll be settled through genetics,” he said. “Things like
morphology, body shape, characteristics like fossil history, a whole body
of knowledge that says what a species is. But in our mind there’s no
question that the red wolf is a separate species.”

Thousands of red wolves originally roamed from Pennsylvania to Florida to
Texas, living mostly in underground dens. Slightly smaller than gray
wolves but larger than coyotes, red wolves eat other animals as large as
whitetail deer and, more frequently, raccoons and rodents such as rabbits,
mice and nutria.

The red wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1967, under a law that
preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973. When the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service established its captive breeding program for the red wolf
in 1973, biologists began to remove the few dozen that remained the wild
in an effort to save the species from extinction. These animals were taken
to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash.

Over a period of six years, another 400 wolf-like animals were captured in
Louisiana and Texas, but only 43 were later thought to be red wolves and
placed in captivity. Breeding experiments then narrowed that group,
identifying only 17 of the 43 as true red wolves. Only 14 of these were
successfully bred in captivity.

By 1980, due in large measure to overhunting, the red wolf was considered
extinct in the wild.

But in 1977 captive red wolf pairs started producing offspring. In 1987,
four pairs were reintroduced to the wild in the 120,000-acre Alligator
River refuge and equipped with radio transmitters so biologists could
monitor their movements. Additional releases were made, and the first wild
litter among the reintroduced animals came in 1988.

The reintroduction area has been expanded. It now includes 100 wolves in
20 packs ranging through 1.5 million acres of federal and private lands in
Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties, said Fazio.

An earlier reintroduction experiment in the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park failed, and the survivors were taken to Alligator River.

“It’s been more than 14 years since the first red wolves were restored
here,” said Fazio. “Those original capitives have passed away by now, so
all the ones here were born in the wild. So there’s a lot of success going
on here.”

Captive wolves may live to 15 years, but rarely exceed seven years in the
wild. Adults usually weigh 45 to 80 pounds. Males are usually larger than

He said 75 wolves are wearing radio collars. “We track them by ground
every day, and by air a couple times a week, usually by airplane but
sometimes by helicopter.”

“Personally and professionally I believe deeply in endangered species
conservation,” said Fazio. “I believe recovery can be achieved for the red
wolf. My staff and I put a lot of energy into this. We want them to
survive, and want to share with people how neat they are.”

“Red wolves are social, family animals that will defend their families or
territory, when necessary, to the death. That behavior is part of humans’
fascination about them. Plus, the wolf is a large predator, and people are
fascinated with large predators and what they represent. Part of that’s
spiritual — they’re representatives of what is wild and natural. And if
you ever look at a red wolf, they’re just flat-out a very pretty animal.
Red on the head or neck, most commonly on the backside of the ears, and
often other places as well. And the cubs really are cute.”

Anyone interested in experiencing red wolves in the wild can join in
“howlings” held on select nights each month, said Fazio.

“People can meet us at the refuge, and we’ll take them out with us. We
howl at the wolves, and the wolves will howl back. There’s definitely a
technique to it. Some people are better at it than others. But if you have
a group doing it, the wolves will believe it’s a pack. They’ll howl back.”