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SD: Rare red wolf pups make debut at zoo

Three newborns will be exhibited in coming weeks

The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History has announced the birth of three rare wolf pups.

The Sioux Falls zoo’s 4-year-old red wolf, Ayasha, gave birth to a litter of three pups — two females and a male — last month.

The pups weighed less than a pound at birth and fit into the palm of a zookeeper’s hand. The zoo’s animal care staff monitored the birth through video cameras and continues to observe the new family.

They will spend much of their time sleeping, eating and settling in with their mother.

They are expected to be on exhibit in the next few weeks. The pups’ father, Tamaska, can be seen daily in the red wolf exhibit.

There are about 100 red wolves left in the wild in eastern North Carolina.

The Great Plains Zoo has had red wolves since 1993 and now holds five of the 200 wolves in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ flagship conservation program, the Species Survival Plan.

“It’s extremely important for zoos to focus on breeding these important animals,” said Elizabeth Whealy, zoo CEO.

Ayasha and another pup were born at the Great Plains Zoo in 2008, Whealy said. The zoo has about 35 endangered and threatened animal species.

“We’re really a key player nationally with other zoos in protecting these species and making sure they continue to keep thriving on the Earth,” she said.

Red wolves once were common throughout the eastern and south-central U.S., but by the early 1900s, populations had fallen victim to predator control programs and habitat destruction, according to zoo information.

In 1967, they were designated as an endangered species, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launching conservation efforts a few years later.

The zoo gets breeding recommendations for the animals to make sure there are as many unrelated individuals as possible in the population, Whealy said.