The red wolf, a critically endangered species that once roamed the American South, has a new reason to celebrate: a litter of six pups born in the wild in North Carolina. The pups, four females and two males, were discovered earlier this month in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, where a pair of wild red wolves has been living since 2018.
This is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018, and only the second since 2014. The red wolf population has been dwindling due to habitat loss, human persecution and hybridization with coyotes. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are only about 20 red wolves left in the wild, and about 250 in captivity.
The birth of the pups is a result of several management actions by the Red Wolf Recovery Program, which has been working to restore the species since the 1980s. The program relocated two female wolves from a zoo to the refuge in 2019 and 2020, hoping they would mate with the lone male wolf there. One of them did, and the other was adopted by another pair of wolves that had a litter of five pups in April.
“This new litter is the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018. This red wolf pair was formed through the combination of several management actions and the two red wolves subsequently following their natural instincts in pairing, establishing their territory and mating,” the program announced on Facebook.
The program also praised the cooperation of local landowners, who have allowed the wolves to use their property and have reported sightings of the animals. “Every generation yields a new born hope for the red wolf…a cause for joy and celebration!” the post read.
The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered canids, and the only one native to the American South. It was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but was reintroduced to North Carolina in 1987 after a successful captive breeding program. The population peaked at about 120 wolves in 2012, but has since declined due to various challenges.
Conservationists hope that the new pups will help boost the genetic diversity and resilience of the species, and inspire more efforts to protect it. Chris Lasher, the coordinator of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, said that red wolves are not evil animals as some people may think, but rather “an important part of our ecosystem.”
“They’re very shy animals. They’re very elusive animals. They’re very intelligent animals,” he said.
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