Once, red wolves roamed as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. No longer. In 1980, they were declared extinct in the wild.
Today, more than 100 live in northeastern North Carolina – the world’s only population of wild red wolves. That is due in large part to the leadership of Warren Parker.
Parker began his career as a wildlife biologist at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, GA, in 1957. In 1984, he became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s first red wolf project coordinator. That same year, John Taylor became the first manager of the newly established Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC. The two began a professional friendship that continues to this day. Parker took part in the June celebration of Taylor’s retirement from Tennessee River National Wildlife Refuge.
Having determined that Alligator River Refuge was an appropriate site to reintroduce red wolves, Parker, Taylor and a team initiated plans to bring captive-bred wolves from Tacoma, WA, to North Carolina. Public opinion was the biggest problem, recalls Parker. Families worried about the safety of their children and pets, while sportsmen worried about deer.
Taylor says Parker’s honesty and personality won the day. “Warren is always smiling, even at a public meeting when there is a lot of heat. You can’t help but like the guy and believe him.”
“If you start saying, what good are grizzly bears or elk, where do you stop?” says Parker. “Red wolves are part of the ecosystem of the Lower 48 states.”
“It was an exciting time,” recalls Taylor. “We were writing a new chapter in wildlife management. Never had a species been reintroduced into the wild after being determined extinct.” Chris Lucash, a young biologist at the time and still at Alligator River Refuge, says, “It took a lot of courage and determination to write that new chapter. They did it with an unflappable sense of optimism.”
Parker retired in 1991, after 34 years in the Service. Yet, he is never far from wolves, consulting with the Arizona Game and Fish Department on its Mexican gray wolf recovery program and speaking to the public about red wolves whenever he can. He listens to them howl at night near his home in North Carolina. “The red wolf is fortunate,” concludes Lucash, “that men of such caliber came along when they were needed.”