Alligator River/Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
P. O. Box 1969
Manteo, North Carolina 27954

Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131

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News Release

April 30, 2009

Alligator River Refuge Welcomes First Red Wolf Litter for 2009!

In red wolf terms, spring has finally "sprung". Last week, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Biologists Chris Lucash, Michael Morse, and Ryan Nordsven located the first red wolf litter of the 2009 season. The Milltail Pack, established early in the Recovery Program on a refuge farming unit, welcomed a litter of two male and one female pups. Currently the pack has seven wolves; three are young born last season. The 2009 pups were found in a bowl-shaped den dug under a fallen tree and appeared to be in good health.

To date, ten litters and a total of 34 pups have been located on the recovery area in eastern North Carolina. Acting Team Leader Art Beyer added, "We're still looking for two more females. So, there's a chance we have more pups out there. And, there's always a slim chance there are wolves out there that are off our radar screen...."

In 2008, production was higher, with 11 litters and 55 pups. "We have no way of knowing why the litters are smaller this year," Beyer said.

Each spring, red wolf dens are located so the litters can be processed. This involves recording the sex of the pup, drawing a small blood sample for DNA analysis, and implanting a tiny tracking device. The processing is done primarily to identify these wolves later in life.

In general, pups are born annually after a 63-day gestation period. Red wolves have been living on the Albemarle Peninsula in northeastern North Carolina for over 21 years. This area is part of their historic home range.

Decades ago, the red wolf was a top predator in most of the eastern United States. Predator control programs and loss of habitat eliminated red wolf numbers until only a few survived along the border of Texas and Louisiana. U.S. Fish Wildlife Service biologists captured this small population and relocated them to the only zoo offering a haven for the canids: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. At that point, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 and for the next seven years bred successfully in captivity. In 1987, four pair were transported to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and released. These were the original founders of the world’s only population of wild red wolves.

Today, approximately 15 red wolf packs live in the wild on 1.7 million acres of public and private land. A typical litter is 3-5 pups. By two years of age, most pups have left their parents and siblings to find a mate and establish their own territories. Red wolves prey on raccoon, nutria, rabbits, small rodents and deer.

For more information about red wolves, please visit www.fws.gov/redwolf/ . The web site has information about how to register for a howling as well as a list of forty Species Survival Plan captive facilities where red wolves can be seen. Because they are a very wary animal, very few are seen in the wild.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

Photo credit: USFWS - Ryan Nordsven (all photos)

Three Red Wolf pups fit in the hands of a biologist wearing rubber gloves
First Wild-born Red Wolf Litter of the 2009 season is "processed". The pups (two male; one female) were given a quick health check and implanted with a small transmitter.

Three Red Wolf pups sleeping outside of their den
Red Wolf pups shown outside their den site.

Refuge biologist Michael Morse walking around fallen tree
Red Wolf Biologist Michael Morse locates den of Milltail pack under a fallen tree.