For Immediate Release
October 8, 1998

Joint Release
Tom MacKenzie 404/679-7291
Gary Henry 704/258-3939 ext. 226
Bob Miller (NPS)423/436-1208


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service today announced a joint decision to end the eight-year effort to restore a wild population of red wolves in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in North Carolina and Tennessee. The two services made the decision because of extremely low pup survival and the inability of wolves to establish home ranges within the park.

This decision does not affect the Fish and Wildlife Service's more successful population of reintroduced red wolves in northeastern North Carolina. Fifty to 100 red wolves are in that population.

"Our goal for the recovery includes establishing at least three self-sustaining wild populations, one of which we had hoped would be in the park," said Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton. "Establishing a reintroduced population of red wolves depends on the released animals producing wild offspring that survive to replace natural mortality and increase the population; unfortunately this did not occur."

"Of 28 pups known to be born in the wild and not removed, we don't know of any that have survived their first year, so we no longer expect to achieve the recovery goal in the park," Hamilton said.

Project biologists are not certain what caused all the pup mortality. Newborn pups are too small to wear the radio-tracking collars used to monitor adult red wolves, so only a few pup carcasses could be located and examined.

Biologists, however, suspect disease, predation, malnutrition, and parasites contributed to the high rate of pup mortality. Pathologists found parvovirus in the remains of one of a litter of four pups that all died during the summer of 1993 and found the carcass of another pup from a separate litter killed by coyotes that same year. Biologists also have documented malnutrition and heavy infestations of internal and external parasites in pups and adults that have been captured.

In 1990, the two services selected the park as a potential restoration site because of the large tracts of federal land that make up the park and surrounding national forests. Restoring long-gone predators is a part of the National Park Service's goal of reestablishing the native plants and animals which existed at the time European settlers first arrived in the mountains.

The red wolf project began in late 1991 with the release of one family group to assess the interactions between red wolves and people, livestock, and coyotes. This period also served as an opportunity to demonstrate the Service's ability and commitment to responsibly manage red wolves in an area of high human use (nearly 10 million visitors annually), including domestic livestock operations. Results of that initial release showed that restoration was feasible, and biologists subsequently released 37 red wolves from late 1992 through 1996.

Of the 37 released red wolves, 26 later died or were recaptured after straying onto private lands outside the park. Biologists suspect a scarcity of prey in the steep, heavily forested slopes that make up most of the park's 500,000 acres is the likely reason the wolves strayed.

"Low food availability can cause wolves to wander widely and expand their range," said Hamilton. "The fact that this was the typical response of red wolves when released in the park suggests that it is less preferred habitat when compared to the lower-elevation agricultural land of the surrounding area."

Park Superintendent Karen P. Wade concurred with the Service plan to remove the wolves but views the project as a success in many respects.

"The park and our partners in the Fish and Wildlife Service have gained a great deal from this effort," Wade said. "We have forged an interagency team that will serve us well in future management of other endangered species. We have also learned a great deal about the habitat preferences and management of red wolves in the wild."

Wade also put the red wolf project into a broader perspective.

"We have had good success with other programs to reintroduce species such as the peregrine falcon and the river otter which had been absent from the park for half a century. But we can only do so much to help a species regain a foothold in the park and, after that, the animal's biology drives the results," she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of relocating the park's six captive red wolves and plans to recapture the remaining four free-ranging red wolves by late fall 1998. Biologists are analyzing information gathered as part of the restoration project over the last 11 years to aid in the selection of future release sites.

"With the limited resources available to all endangered species programs, it is our responsibility to use the most accurate and current information to make the best choices for recovering the red wolf. This responsibility includes selecting release sites that allow us to establish a population as efficiently as possible for the sake of the species and the interests of the American public," said Hamilton.

All large federally owned land bases (170,000 acres or more) within the red wolf's historic range are being included in the assessment of potential release sites. However, no site has been selected at this time.

The Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to develop a "short list" of potential areas that offer the greatest biological potential and then further refine the selection process based on the interests, land use, and attitudes of the public surrounding a particular federal site.

"The selection of the next release site will be a very complex process, a process that must balance biological, logistical, and socio-political factors, all of which can contribute to the success or failure of individual red wolves and, ultimately, to the overall recovery of the species." Hamilton said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.

NOTE: Media availability with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Great Smoky Mountains National Park Representatives Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:00 a.m. at Great Smoky Mountain National Park Headquarters, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg. Slides and B-roll available.


Release #: R98-091a

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