Carolyn Thompson, Staff Writer
There are only an estimated 45-60 wild red wolves left in the world, and they all live right here in North Carolina. The species was nearly decimated in the 1960s due to intensive predator control and loss of habitat. The short film “Red Wolf Revival” discusses the efforts to save the red wolves since then.
The film screening of “Red Wolf Revival” was hosted by Wolves 4 Wolves, an organization at NC State dedicated to the conservation of endangered wolf species, particularly the red wolf. In addition to the film screening, the event featured a red wolf expert panel as part of a Q&A session with the audience.
Jaspreet Pooni, president of Wolves 4 Wolves and fourth-year studying fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, talked about the importance of conservation education.
“The biggest thing when it comes to any type of conservation for any type of species is education, because so few people know about the species,” Pooni said. “I think the biggest thought for our group is ‘how do we get a large group of people together so more people can learn about it?’ We were like ‘Oh, we have the ‘Red Wolf Revival’ screening, but we don’t want the screening to just be by itself, let’s get some professionals.’”
A remaining population of red wolves was found along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana after their near demise in the 1960s, according to the film and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Red wolves were declared an endangered species in 1973.
After the declaration, there were efforts to locate and capture the remaining wild wolves found in the Louisiana and Texas coast area. Of the 17 wild wolves captured, only 14, which qualified as red wolves and not coyote hybrids, according to the film, became the founders of a captive breeding program.
“By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina,” said the FWS’ write up on the species. “Since then, the experimental population area has since expanded to include three national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state-owned lands and private property, spanning a total of 1.7 million acres.”
Scott Lanier, the deputy refuge manager of the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge, shared his experience with the red wolf reintroduction during the Q&A session.
“I was there when these animals were first brought to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge back in the late ‘80s,” Lanier said. “When I was a senior here at NC State, I also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services as a co-op student. We were first doing a prey based study on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to see if we had enough prey out there on Alligator River refuge to sustain a wolf population.”
The red wolf species is threatened both by interbreeding with coyotes and being killed by humans. According to the film, local private landowners are primarily concerned about coyotes and the damage they can cause to their livelihoods, and red wolves are often mistaken for coyotes in appearance.
The solution for both the red wolves and landowners sharing the same space may not be clear, but the film conveys the notion that there is room for everybody if properly managed and that we should protect what’s meant to be here.
About 200 red wolves make up the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan captive breeding program in sites across the United States, which is still an important part of red wolf recovery. Currently, adaptive management efforts are making progress in reducing the threat of coyotes while building the wild red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina, according to the FWS.
“I have a lot of strong feelings for that red wolf,” Lanier said. “I want to see that program continue. I want to see red wolves continue on the landscape, not only on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge To me, it’s the red wolf — we’re NC State, our colors are red and white, you can’t not like the red wolf. As a native North Carolinian, it always made me proud that we had something like that that there was nowhere else in the world. “