US Fish and Wildlife Services
US Fish and Wildlife staff in North Carolina welcomed a litter of six red cubs to the world earlier this week. It’s the first time in four years that a pair of wild red wolves – a species on the verge of extinction – have given birth to a litter in the wild.
The hatchlings, four females and two males, were found at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge along the northeast coast of North Carolina. Red Wolf Recovery Program staff announced the news on Facebook Thursday.
“This new litter is the first litter of red wolves born in the wild since 2018. This pair of red wolves was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves then followed their natural instincts by mating , establishing their territory and mating.” the read message. “Each generation gives new hope to the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!”
Before settlers arrived in North America, red wolves thrived throughout the southeastern United States, from Florida to the Great Plains and the Ohio River Valley, according to the national conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife. But through hunting, extermination, and the expansion of cities and towns, humans have driven the species to near extinction.
There was a single 17 wolves left to rescue when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. Before 14 of the remaining 17 wolves were trapped and moved into captivity, the handful of survivors lived in a small area of the coast of Louisiana and Texas.
The remaining wolves have disappeared, Fish and Wildlife said, due to continued human persecution and habitat loss. The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980.
US Fish and Wildlife Services
Just four years later, there were 63 healthy red wolves in captivity, ready to be released into the wild in hopes of giving the species a second chance. As part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, the Red Wolf Recovery Program said more than 60 adult wolves were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge between 1987 and 1994.
Over the next few years, wolves did what came naturally to them: they maintained territories, formed packs and, most importantly, began to breed.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
As other conservationists marveled at the success of the red wolf’s recovery program, it became a model for efforts to reintroduce gray wolves, Mexican wolves, California condors and black-footed ferrets.
In 2012, the population peaked at 120. According to the FWS, this was the first time a large carnivore had been brought back from extinction and reintroduced into the wild in the United States.
But once again humans threatened the handful of surviving wolves.
According to a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, conservationists came to the aid of wolves again in 2012, after one red wolf after another was shot and killed, mistaking it for a coyote. . The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission had recently approved a temporary rule allowing hunters to kill coyotes, which sometimes breed with wolves, at night in the area where the red wolf was trying to return.
The population had fallen to 100 by the time a settlement was reached between conservationists and the NCWRC. Spotlight hunting at night was prohibited, and hunters had to be licensed to hunt coyotes during the day.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
But wolf numbers continued to decline, reaching a worryingly low population estimate of 17 to 20 in 2020 and 2021. There has been a steady decline in the number of wild-born red wolves beginning in 2008, who saw 47 new wolves, just four cubs. in 2018. Fish and Wildlife reported no red wolf births in the wild in 2019, 2020, or 2021.
That’s why the recent litter of six is such exciting news for conservationists and wolf enthusiasts. To date, it is estimated that between 15 and 17 red wolves live in the wild. 241 others exist in captivity. They continue to be one of the most endangered animals on the planet.