By Sue Book, Sun Journal Staff
A sixth red wolf in the past month of the fewer than 100 now in the wild was killed by apparent gunshot and recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday.
The federally protected wolf’s body was recovered from private property north of Swan Quarter, in western Hyde County, one of five North Carolina counties that now form the only free roaming habitat to the species declared extinct in the wild in 1980.
David Rabon, Fish and Wildlife Red Wolf Recovery Program coordinator since 2009, said the death brought the total of red wolves to 14 that have died since Jan. 1. Three were struck and killed by vehicles, one died as a result of non-management related actions, one died from undetermined causes apparently resulting from an illegal take, and nine were confirmed or suspected gunshot deaths.
While the mortality number of the protected species this year is 40 percent fewer than last, Rabon said, “the gunshot mortality is higher.”
Information directly leading to an arrest, criminal conviction, civil penalty, or forfeiture of property in the death of the endangered species may be eligible for a $26,000 reward.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service offers a reward but the level of attention that this has brought has grouped a number of organizations together that don’t always think alike,” he said.
“Pledged contributions by North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Red Wolf Coalition, Humane Society of the United States, and the Center for Biological Diversity show broad solidarity in support of this incredible tragedy,” Rabon said.
The reward being raised high enough could help flush out the shooter of one of the world’s most endangered wild canids, once common throughout the southeastern U.S. but decimated due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat, said Rabon.
Of the six radio-collared red wolves found dead in the last month in Hyde, Washington, and Tyrrell counties, only one cut-off radio collar was found. Red wolves are also found in Dare and Beaufort counties as principal habitat and occasionally in adjoining counties.
Rabon, a biologist working with the Red Wolf Program since 2000 before becoming coordinator, said, “There is no record of a red wolf ever attacking a person unprovoked. Wolves in general are not a threat to people.”
“I recognize people’s concern about large predators but wolves are not aggressive; they are more inclined to stay away from people,” he said. He advised that anyone seeing a wolf in their area make a loud noise, such as by shooting into the air, and it will scare the wolf away.
These about 100 remaining red wolves in the wild, plus about 200 in zoos and breeding preserves, Rabon said.
About 17 red wolves were captured along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana after the species was declared endangered in 1967 and 14 of them became founders of a successful zoo-based breeding program. The first litter was born in captivity in 1977 and by 1987 there were enough to begin the restoration program on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina and now includes three refuges in northeastern North Carolina.
Red wolves prey on a variety of mammals like raccoons, rabbits, white-tailed deer, and nutria and other rodents. They are most active at dusk and dawn and generally avoid humans.
The red wolf is protected under The Endangered Species Act and the maximum criminal penalties for the unlawful taking of a red wolf are one year imprisonment and $100,000 fine per individual.
Anyone with information on the death of this red wolf or any others, past or future, is urged to contact Resident Agent in Charge John Elofson at 404-763-7959, Refuge Officer Frank Simms at 216-7504, or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at 216-8225.