National Wildlife Refuge System
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Credit: USFWS
red wolf pups

And Speaking of Breeding …

In North Carolina, 41 red wolf pups born in the wild this spring gave biologists a big reason to celebrate. The count represents a higher than average whelping rate for the 15 collared packs in the state’s red wolf recovery program. (A pack typically consists of a dominant pair of breeding wolves with current offspring who eventually “disperse” to form their own pack.) The 21–year–old–program covers 1.7 million acres in five counties and includes three National Wildlife Refuges: Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge.

Generally, biologists hope that half of the population will whelp every year, says Diane Hendry, outreach coordinator for the program. “The fact that 11 litters were found for 15 packs is very encouraging for the federally endangered species.”

A century ago, the red wolf was the top predator in the eastern United States. But early bounties and indiscriminate killing, coupled with habitat destruction, reduced the population to 17 by the 1970s, when the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, began a captive breeding program. In 1987, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service released four pairs of wolves on the Alligator River Refuge as the first step in restoring a wild population.

Hendry estimates that currently, 100 to 120 red wolves live in the wild, 86 of them collared. Red wolves prey mainly on small rodents and deer. “Nutria − that’s one of their favorites,” said Hendry, referring to the invasive pest. Area farmers, she said, “are grateful the red wolf helps to control raccoon and nutria. They also tend to take the lame and weak of the deer population. In fact, it’s now thought that deer herds can become stronger due to red wolf presence.”

Contact: Diane Hendry, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Red Wolf Recovery Program at 252–473–1131, ext. 246 or email Diane_Hendry@fws.gov.
For more information: www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=41630

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