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The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf

The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf

Beeland, T. DeLene. 2013. The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf. The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill. 256 pp. including map, black and white photos, bibliography, index. $28.00 US. Hardcover.

Compared to gray wolves (Canis lupus) very few books have been written on the subject of North America’s beleaguered red wolves (Canis rufus). Beeland does a superb job of stitching together all of the pertinent material surrounding this mysterious and critically endangered canid. Printed in early 2013, the most recent information dates to 2011; very impressive when considering editing changes, printing deadlines and the like. Her resources are exhaustive and include interviews, technical readings, and personal time sloshing around pocosin marshes chasing elusive wild red wolves with Fish & Wildlife Service biologists.

The book is divided into three parts with several chapters devoted to each section. The first section discusses the red wolf today; the second part, the red wolf yesterday, and the third; the red wolf tomorrow. This organization allows the unfamiliar reader an opportunity to understand the plight of this creature in the present-tense which (hopefully) stimulates curiosity in learning how the red wolf became so rare and current threats that may affect its future. Beeland does a nice job intertwining stories of working with biologists as a means of introducing the reader to its historical plight, its present-day problems, and uncertainties that may affect its continued presence on planet Earth.

Topics that few involved in red wolves desire to talk openly about – such as its highly debatable taxonomic position amongst the canids – are discussed frankly in both the first and third sections. And, Beeland presents highly technical morphological and genetics research findings – and their clouded implications – in a manner that virtually any reader can comprehend; a difficult task indeed. And just as importantly the various arguments of its taxonomic position being bantered about in professional circles are presented fairly. She even brings into play this canid’s putative relationship with another controversial canid – the eastern wolf (a.k.a. Canis lycaon) with which it likely shared much of eastern North America prior to European contact.

Part two provides a thorough review of what was known about this creature, its distribution, and its gradual demise. She reviews the (belated) steps taken to understand its taxonomic relationships to gray wolves, efforts to gather in ecological information, and the backdrop leading to profound decisions affecting its future during the twilight of the species’ existence in the salt marshes of coastal Texas and Louisiana back in the 1970’s.

Part three discusses looming threats – some of which have seemingly already arrived at the wolf’s door. In this section Beeland outlines these potential threats, factors in the politics (no surprise here – state’s rights vs. federal mandates rise to the top), and habitat changes within the only region presently harboring wild red wolves that may make their existence untenable in real time. Pleasingly, Beeland maintains objectivity in the presentation of this charged material.

In reviewing this work for errors I found very few. The editors did a marvelous job controlling these. My only “pet”-peeve was her constant use of the word “puppies” in describing “pups”. We wildlife biologists prefer less emotional-laden terms when describing such topics as young-of-the-year!

I highly recommend this as a first-rate book describing the history of red wolf (mis) management. It is a quick read, is understandable, and provides very thorough and frank discussions of the many issues threatening the red wolf’s continued existence. On the topic of red wolves this book ranks second to none.

Richard P. Thiel