By Amy McRary of the Knoxville News Sentinel
A critically endangered red wolf born at Zoo Knoxville appears to be healthy and thriving.
The single pup born April 30 is part of a critically endangered species. Currently without a name, the baby is the first red wolf pup born at the zoo in 23 years. His mother Saaron, 9, and father Sunny, 4 are first-time parents.
The pup is living in the zoo’s red wolf den, where he’ll stay three to four weeks before he starts to venture out. Zoo staff are checking and weighing the pup to chart his development.
Red wolves usually have litters of two to six pups and the mother’s milk production for her babies is determined by demand. Since Saaron only gave birth to one pup her milk production could be a concern, said Zoo Director of Communications Tina Rolen. But the little pup is steadily gaining weight, is nursing and appears to be thriving and healthy, she said. He weighed about one pound at birth and earlier this week weighed 1.7 pounds.
Red wolves are one of the world’s most endangered animals in the world. The animals were declared extinct in the wild in 1980.
The only wild red wolves are the 50 to 75 animals that live in a five-county area in eastern North Carolina. The wolves were reintroduced to that Albermarle peninsula in 1987. But zoo officials say the wild population may be in peril because North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission has asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to end its reintroduction program. The state’s petition is being considered by the federal agency that will determine if the program is kept or changed or if the wolves are moved to captivity.
About 200 red wolves like Sunny, Saaron and their pups live in accredited United States zoos and breeding facilities and are part of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan that works to save the animals from extinction.