The birth of seven red wolf pups at the North Carolina Zoo symbolizes hope for the world’s only wild red wolf population, teetering once again on the brink of extinction.
America’s red wolves came howling back from extinction in the wild in 1980 after successful conservation efforts and reintroductions from captive populations—like these pups—to number around 100 wild wolves for approximately a decade in eastern North Carolina.
But now, wild red wolves face extinction once again.
“Every time pups are born in captivity, it is a great reminder that wild red wolves can be saved – but the Fish and Wildlife Service is choosing to walk away from its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and abandon its proven, effective conservation measures. The service needs to restart releases of captive wolves so we can rebuild the wild population, which is hanging on by a thread.”
—Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver
No pups were born in the wild last year. And only 10 red wolves are known to survive in the wild in 2020 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped much of its conservation efforts in recent years, including allowing for wolves to be shot by landowners.
“Every time pups are born in captivity, it is a great reminder that wild red wolves can be saved – but the Fish and Wildlife Service is choosing to walk away from its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and abandon its proven, effective conservation measures,” says Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver, a national expert in wildlife and endangered species issues. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to restart releases of captive wolves so we can rebuild the wild population, which is hanging on by a thread.”N.C. Governor urges federal action for wild wolves
A federal court found in November 2018 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service violated the Endangered Species Act when it ended proven conservation measures including the release of captive red wolves, after the Southern Environmental Law Center went to court on behalf of conservation organizations.
“The fact remains that the Fish and Wildlife Service still hasn’t remedied the violations that the court found over a year and a half ago,” says Weaver.
In November 2018, the court also made permanent its September 2016 order that stopped the service from capturing and killing wild red wolves or authorizing private landowners to do the same to animals not posing a threat to human safety or property.
On June 27, 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule that would restrict the conservation and management of wild red wolves to one National Wildlife Refuge and a bombing range in eastern North Carolina, while allowing the immediate killing of any wolves that live on or wander onto non-federal lands in what previously had been a designated five-county Red Wolf Recovery Area. The service’s proposal would reduce the recovery area by almost 90 percent.
A group of 30 scientists condemned such a scenario in 2016 because the limited area proposed by the service could not support a viable population of red wolves and its proposal was inconsistent with the best available science.