They’re also critically important to the survival of their species.
With fewer than 300 red wolves left alive, and only a few dozen left in the wild, the North Carolina Zoo announced May 2 that five endangered red wolf pups were born at the zoo on April 15 — three females and two males.
The pups and their mother are all healthy and doing well, zoo spokeswoman Debbie Foster Fuchs said on Wednesday.
Last week, three rare pups were born at the Durham Museum of Life and Science. Over the weekend, the museum announced that one of the pups had died — not uncommon for red wolf pups so young.
This litter brings the number of red wolves at the Zoo to 24, the second largest pack in the U.S. after Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash.
The pups were born while severe storms, including a tornado, swept through the Triad area of North Carolina.
Symbolizing perseverance and strength in the wake of this tragedy, four of the rare pups were named Thor, Thunder, Hurricane (Cane) and Typhoon (Ty), Fuchs said.
The fifth was named Oklahoma, or Oakley, for the Oklahoma-shaped white blaze on her chest.
Also nicknamed the “Fab Five,” they are the offspring of Ayita (female) and Finnick (male), both 6 years old. This pair has successfully bred before.
The pups are being kept in a quiet, non-public viewing area of the zoo and have minimal contact with staff and keepers. This allows their mother to raise the pups with the least amount of stress in a natural habitat.
Once common throughout the southeastern United States, American red wolves are the most endangered canid in the world, according to the zoo. The wolves were driven to near extinction during the late 1960s, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an aggressive conservation effort – the American Red Wolf Recovery Program – that led to new ways to track and protect the species.
The zoo’s red wolf pack has bred nine pups over the past three years and has successfully bred 29 wolves since the program began. Currently, there are about 230 red wolves in breeding programs throughout the U.S. and an estimated 30 in the wild, found only in eastern North Carolina. Red wolves normally have three to five pups per litter.
The North Carolina Zoo recently led successful efforts to have the American red wolf become part of the Association of Zoo and Aquariums SAFE (Saving Species From Extinction) program, Fuchs said.
Under this program, the North Carolina Zoo will take the lead in conserving the red wolf and growing both the population in the wild and the animals under human care. AZA SAFE Species programs aim to protect endangered species around the world.
For more information, go to www.aza.org/aza-safe.
For more information on the North Carolina Zoo, go to nczoo.org.