Rachel Minske, Press-Gazette Media
SUAMICO – Six red wolf pups spent Friday morning sitting snugly inside their shelters at the NEW Zoo.
Just 2 months old, the young wolves occasionally poked their heads outside to look at a zoo employee who put out bowls of food and cleaned the animals’ enclosure.
“They’re just now getting to the state where they’re all over the place and spending more time awake and wrestling,” said Carmen Murach, curator of animals at the NEW Zoo.
The red wolf breed is extremely endangered, Murach said. In an effort to rebuild the population, the zoo is one of many across the country breeding the animal in captivity with the hopes they may eventually be released into the wild.
“We’re trying to create as close and diverse to the original population as possible,” she said. “We do pay a lot of attention.”
In 1973, the red wolf was officially declared endangered in the wild, said Will Waddell, the red wolf species survival plan coordinator from Point Defiance Zoo in Washington state. Waddell helped coordinate the relocation of the red wolf population at zoos across the country.
By 1980, all remaining red wolves in the wild — 14 total — were captured and placed in captivity. At that point, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the animal was extinct in the wild. For the past 24 years, the red wolf population has slowly grown as they’ve been bred in captivity and released into the wild, Waddell said.
“In zoos, they’re doing pretty well,” said Waddell, who noted that 209 are in captivity and approximately 100 are in the wild.
“They’re stable and it’s something we evaluate every year.”
The NEW Zoo stepped up to help, and it acquired two adult wolves — a female named Mayo and her mate, Tamaska. Two months ago Mayo gave birth to healthy pups, Murach said.
At this point in their lives, the wolf pups are similar to domestic dogs and easily worn out.
In an effort to prepare them for successful release into the wild, the zoo limits human interaction and does not feed the baby animals by hand.
Although the red wolf population is growing, Waddell said the wolves are not doing well once they’re released into their natural habitat. Many are often shot by people or hit by cars.
Because they were captured in the wild and brought into captivity, the red wolves at the NEW Zoo are owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Lisa Mandell, deputy field supervisor for the department’s Minnesota office.
“Anyone who’s going to take animals out of the wild for whatever reason, they’re going to need authorization to use those animals in captivity, and it would normally be for recovery purposes,” Mandell said.
It has not yet been decided whether the pups at the Green Bay zoo will be released back into the wild, Murach said. They may be relocated to various zoos once they’re mature adults two years from now.
“We’re really proud of this one,” Murach said of the healthy population. “These little pups are adorable and cute but also so important.”