South Salem, New York, is home to 10 new celebrities.
The New York Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) welcomed 10 rare red wolf pups on April 19. Charlotte gave birth to four pups and then momma wolf Veronica had her six pups just a few hours later. Now, about nine weeks after this busy day, all of the red wolf babies and their parents are doing well.
The center’s staff, and the world, watched the baby boom happen over the WCC’s webcams, which are set up in the wolves’ secluded dens and enclosures to allow the animals their privacy and to limit human interaction.
While the WCC is dedicated to giving all of their wolf residents the best care, these red wolf pups especially need to be handled with kid gloves since there are likely less than 30 red wolves left in the wild.
This species has had a tumultuous history.
“Red wolves, native to the southeastern United States, were almost driven to extinction by intensive predator control programs and habitat loss. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) captured the last wild red wolves (just 14 animals) and declared the species extinct in the wild,” WCC reports.
In 1987, the USFWS gave the red wolf a second chance at survival in the wild, releasing several captive bred wolves into North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act. This effort was moving toward success, with the red wolf population up to 130 after 20 years of careful monitoring, and it showed signs of continuing to increase.
Unfortunately, the forward progress was stalled.
“Although the red wolf recovery program served as a model for successful recovery of wolves, political barriers and consistent mismanagement by the USFWS have seriously threatened the continued existence of this highly imperiled species. In 2014, the USFWS stopped reintroducing captive-born red wolves into the wild, ceased implementing the Red Wolf Adaptive Management Plan that limited hybridization with coyotes, and even began issuing kill permits to landowners,” WCC explains.
Now, the WCC estimates there are less than 30 red wolves left in the wild, and they could be placed in captivity soon, leaving the species essentially extinct once again.
To keep the red wolf from disappearing from the planet altogether, WCC and 42 other facilities in the U.S. participate in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan — a breeding and management program whose primary purpose is to support the reestablishment of red wolves in the wild through captive breeding, public education and research.
The WCC’s new arrivals are an important boost to the base red wolf population. Since birth they have been closely monitored by the WCC, but with limited human interaction. To help keep these wolf pups and their parents as wild as possible, they are kept in a large wooded enclosure, only fed food they would encounter in the wild (like deer carcasses) and only come in contact with humans for necessary medical check-ups.
“Under Red Wolf Species Survival Plan protocols, captive born pups must be checked during certain milestones in their development. We checked the pups at 5 days old to determine the size of the litter and take stock of their health, and then again last week at their 2 month mark,” WCC’s executive director Maggie Howell tells PEOPLE.
The check-ups were performed by Veterinarian Dr Kim Khodakhah, who volunteers her time to WCC, and WCC Curator Rebecca Bose. According to Howell, none of this, not even the check-ups, would have been possible without Michael Schneider. Through his non-profit Pilots to the Rescue, Schneider volunteered his time and pilot skills to fly Jack the red wolf to WCC so the animal could father the new pups.
By keeping this species alive through excellent care and selective breeding, the WCC and the other facilities that are a part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan are keeping the hope alive that the red wolf can thrive in the wild once more. But for this to happen, the red wolf will need the support the government once provided the species.