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NC: Local groups fear for red wolf safety

By Nehemiah Chen, Correspondent

Local groups are headed to court, aiming to overturn a rule that was recently passed that allows the nighttime hunting of coyotes. The groups are concerned that the spotlight hunting is having a deleterious effect on the already struggling population of red wolves.

Part of the issue is that the red wolf’s appearance is very similar to the coyote. Recent genetic research suggests that it may even be a hybrid between the gray wolf and the coyote.

“It is challenging even for an experienced wolf biologist to identify a red wolf for certain, even with a good look,” Michael Stoskopf, a professor of clinical sciences, said.

“It would be difficult for there not to be many mistakes made by people without good experience differentiating between red wolves and other wild canids, particularly with brief observations at night.”

Spotlight hunting, combined with animal calls, allow hunters to easily lure curious animals into firing range. The light confuses animals, which gives hunters a chance for an easy shot.

“It would be great for this night hunting to go away in the five-county area,” said Sherry Samuels, treasurer for the Red Wolf Coalition.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued two press releases regarding two red wolves that were shot and killed in the past few months. One wolf was killed just a month after the ruling went into effect, in Tyrrell County. The other wolf was killed in Beaufort County a month later.

“Night hunting of coyotes is a very politically-charged issue in North Carolina. The issues surrounding [spotlight hunting] are far more based in politics and human dimensions than they are in wildlife management or conservation biology,” Stoskopf said.

Killing a red wolf illegally can result in a year in prison and fines as high as $100,000. Killing coyotes, on the other hand, carries no consequence.

“Though the successes of the red wolf recovery efforts over the past decades have helped establish a good population in North Carolina, increased losses of breeding age animals for any reason is always a serious concern for recovery biologists,” Stoskopf said.

In 1980 the red wolf was declared biologically extinct in the wild due to aggressive predator control programs and habitat destruction. However, in the early 1970s the USFWS captured 14 genetically true red wolves in order to save the wolves from extinction. Through the efforts of various groups, a captive breeding program was started. The red wolf then saw a re-introduction to the wild in North Carolina. Currently there are about 100 wild red wolves roaming a protected area in the eastern part of the state.

“They’re an amazing species that are worthy of our support,” Samuels said.

For those interested in catching a glimpse of the endangered wolf, they can be seen at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. According to Samuels, the museum has had red wolves as part of their exhibits since 1992.