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NC: Red wolves reintroduced into wild 25 years ago

Sam Walker

Friday marked the 25th anniversary of the reintroduction of the red wolf into the wild.

On Sept. 14, 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a male and female pair of red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Today, about 100 red wolves roam their native habitats in Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.

According to a U.S.F.W.S. news release, the red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids, and was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.

Once common throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the 1960s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat.

A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. After the red wolf was declared an endangered species in 1967, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible.

Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program.

The first litter of red wolves born in captivity occurred in 1977.

By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Since then, the experimental population area has expanded over a total of 1.7 million acres that includes three national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state-owned lands, and private property.

In addition to the wild population, approximately 200 comprise the Species Survival Plan captive breeding program in sites across the United States, still an essential element of red wolf recovery.

Interbreeding with the coyote (Canis latrans), a species not native to North Carolina, has been recognized as a significant threat to restoration of red wolves in this section of their historical home range.

Management efforts, however, are making good progress in reducing the threat of coyotes while building the wild red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina.