By Reece Alvarez
M1804, a critically endangered red wolf, one of several species raised and cared for at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, will be flown this weekend to Florida’s St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a remote barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, to be introduced to a potential mate.
“We’re excited for him because he’ll get to roam around a new territory with his partner and hopefully have pups,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the WCC. “He’ll be living life the way a wolf should. This is precisely why we participate in the SSP program.”
The SSP program is the Species Survival Plan, a national effort to repopulate certain species of critically endangered wolves, as well as other endangered animals.
Born at the WCC in 2010, M1804 is one of five captive red wolves living there as part the organization’s participation in the SSP.
There are currently fewer than 100 wild red wolves — all of which live in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, according to the WCC.
Rescue via repopulation
Known to the WCC as M1804 to emphasize the scientific importance of his genetics to rebuilding the decimated species, he will be flown to the island to meet with F1729, one of two wolves currently living on the island.
The other inhabitant, M1565, a male wolf that F1729 failed to breed with, will be flown back to the WCC to live with a new potential mate.
The hope and need for success is high at the WCC, as nine wild red wolves have been illegally shot this year, six of them this fall. M1804’s chances of successful breeding are favorable, though, as the island provides for limited interactions with humans that often result in conflict and the killing of wolves.
“The pair should be free of any human threats,” according to the WCC.
M1804 was selected to be paired with the female in the Florida refuge because of his unique genetic characteristics.
“He’s the best breeding match for her in the SSP program in terms of diversity,” said Rebecca Bose, WCC curator. “It’s kind of like online dating except based almost exclusively on genetics. And, of course, the stakes — the survival of a species — are much higher.”
It may not take long to determine if the two wolves are a breeding match. Wolves breed only during the winter and give birth in the spring, so success may be realized within a few months, according to the WCC.
“And there’s always next breeding season,” Ms. Bose said. “Sometimes these things take time.”