By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Federal wildlife officials still are searching for information about the person or persons responsible for killing six red wolves during the last month.
A number of animal rights and wildlife groups have pooled resources to offer a reward of as much as $26,000 for information leading to an arrest and criminal conviction of the person or persons responsible for the deaths, according to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the red wolf recovery program under way in eastern North Carolina.
Five of the dead wolves were found in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties, the release said. A cut radio tracking collar was the only thing found of the sixth wolf.
All the deaths occurred on privately owned land. It is unclear if the deaths are related to a rule change that allows hunters to hunt coyote at night, David Rabon, recovery coordinator for the red wolf recovery program, said.
“We don’t have any evidence that the animals were shot at night,” Rabon said. “At this point, we don’t exactly know when they were shot. We can’t at this point say it’s because of night hunting.”
There were several incidents earlier in the year where hunters mistakenly shot wolves, but those people reported the incidents.
“By and large, the hunter community is a very responsible community and follows a very specific ethic,” Rabon said. “All the people I’ve interacted with are respectable and responsive and don’t go about hunting in that matter. If there is a mistake, they are going to own up to it.”
A total of 14 red wolves have died since Jan. 1. Nine were confirmed or suspected gunshot deaths, including the six that recently were killed.
There are an estimated 100 red wolves in North Carolina. All are in the east, Rabon said. The red wolf recovery program monitors 65 animals, he said.
“Losing six in just the last month, that’s 10 percent of our known animals,” Rabon said. Three of the dead wolves were part of a breeding pair and all six were breeding age, he said.
“We’ve essentially gone down from 11 breeding pairs to eight breeding parts and that is very conservative,” Rabon said.
Fall is when wolves form breeding pairs and if half of a pair is lost there is a risk the surviving wolf may mate with a coyote which goes against the recovery program’s management strategy, he said.
The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild.
A zoo-based breeding program was launched, and by 1987 enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina.
The red wolf is protected under The Endangered Species Act. The maximum criminal penalties for the unlawful death of a red wolf are one year imprisonment and a $100,000 fine per individual.
The reward consists of the $2,500 typically provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and donations from the Humane Society of the United States, the Red Wolf Center, the Center for Biologicalf Diversity and the N.C. Wildlife Federation. Individual organizations pledging contributions will determine eligibility for payment of any reward.
Anyone with information on the wolves’ deaths can 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.
“This is a program and species we should be proud of. It’s part of our community it’s part of our heritage,” Rabon said. “Any information we get about these animals helps us manage this program. It helps us understand why someone might kill one of these animals.”