By Jeff Hampton
An endangered red wolf was shot and killed this week south of Columbia in Tyrrell County and another is missing and believed to have been shot, bringing the total to 12 dead this year.
Officials found Tuesday the body of a red wolf with a gunshot wound. On the same day in another area of Tyrrell County, a red wolf collar was found, according to a release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is believed that wolf also was shot.
Illegally killing a red wolf can bring a fine up to $100,000 and one year in prison. Anyone with information leading to an arrest may be eligible for a $2,500 reward.
Seven of the 12 wolf deaths this year were attributed to gunshots.
The red wolf is one of the rarest mammals on earth. Fewer than 100 live in the wild in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and other federal and state-owned lands and on private tracts in northeastern North Carolina. Environmental groups have sued North Carolina to stop the practice of hunting coyotes at night, which they say leads to the shooting of red wolves.