Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Red Wolf’s Greatest Threat? It’s Not Poison

Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service notified the public that a red wolf was poisoned in January. This is a tragic blow, but unfortunately, not the greatest threat to red wolves.

Red wolves, a species that should be considered an American icon, are facing extinction in the wild for a second time. This wolf is the only species that resides purely within the boundaries of the United States.  Like gray wolves, red wolves faced mass extermination in the 19th century due to human development and misconceptions.  In 1980, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild, with only a small population left in captivity to prevent complete extinction. In an effort to restore this species to a portion of its historic range, a small population of red wolves was released within North Carolina’s Alligator Wildlife Refuge in 1987.  The experimental population increased in size and range for about thirty years, with this recovery effort critically acclaimed for being a model of success for reintroducing an endangered species to the wild.

However, over the last few years, the population size has dropped more than 50%, leaving less than 45 red wolves in the wild. The population is suffering under the very department tasked with recovering this animal. In 2013, The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began facing pressure from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, a few landowners opposed to red wolves, and regional representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service based out of Atlanta, Georgia.  This led the agency to strip control of the recovery program from the scientists who led the successful effort. The FWS also reassigned the lead scientist and abandoned adaptive management practices such as coyote sterilization and pup fostering. Along with all this, they neglected to firmly enforce poaching regulations to the extent that red wolves could be shot or removed from property without persecution.

Not only have adaptive management strategies been abandoned and the team of recovery scientists been disbanded, the Fish and Wildlife Service has also proposed shrinking the current range of the red wolves by almost 90 percent and removing all but one pack of red wolves from the wild.  They are claiming that captive populations need the genetic diversity and the only way to save the species is to bring back the wild wolves into captivity.  The Fish and Wildlife Service referenced scientific work when making this argument, but the scientists who published this research came forward and publicly denounced the proposal, saying it was based on “alarming misinterpretations” and would “no doubt result in extinction of red wolves in the wild.”  The red wolf has already lost more than 99% of its historical range, more than lions, tigers, and snow leopards.

If Fish and Wildlife follows through with its proposal, we can be sure to lose the last remaining wild red wolves, once and for all. Stand for red wolves by submitting comments to a public comment period for the Fish and Wildlife Service until July 24th and by signing a Defenders of Wildlife petition.  Learn more by watching this video.


First Month at Wolf Park

The first month of my internship at Wolf Park has already flown by.  Living on site and being surrounded by adult wolves and wolf puppies every day is a refreshing break from the real world.  Each staff member, intern, and volunteer come from distinctly diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, but we are all united by our love for wolves, conservation, and research.  Between phone problems, poor service, and slow wifi, I have been a little cut off from the rest of the world, but it is small price to pay for living around wolves.

Wolf Park is a nonprofit education, research, and conservation facility that raises and trains socialized wolves.  Captive wolves need to be socialized to give them the best life they can possibly have.  Being trained and acclimated to strange and unfamiliar body handling allows them to receive any medical treatment that is necessary.  In the wild, a toothache or an infected cut could mean a death sentence, but if socialized, a captive wolf can receive the necessary treatments.  Having socialized animals also allows researchers to study the behavior and social interactions of wolves.  Because wild wolves have such a long flight distance (how close a human can get to a wild animal before it flees), humans rarely get the opportunity to study wolf behavior.  Typically, wild wolves are studied through the use of radio telemetry, high power binoculars, fecal samples, and tracks.  At Wolf Park, an ethogram, a catalog of behavior, has been compiled over the last 45 years for wolves.  This assists facilities with captive wolves by providing a better understanding of wolf behavior so they can better care for their wolves.  It also benefits researchers studying wild wolves who may not get close enough to observe their behavior.

Socialization simply means that the flight distance of a wild animal is reduced to zero.  That doesn’t necessarily mean an animal likes people or is friendly.  Most of the Wolf Park wolves, however, love people.  The animal care staff goes in several times a week to brush coats, apply fly repellent on ears, and do training and enrichment activities with the wolves.  Interns occasionally have the opportunity to join the staff on these visits, which has made every aspect of the internship worth it.  The park also has 5 wolf pups that have been getting 24/7 care and have been progressing on a highly developed training regimen.  Leash walking, learning basic behaviors, and crate training are all becoming second nature for the pups so that when they are older, they can easily be moved to different enclosures as well as receive medical attention if needed.  Starting training and exposing the pups to new stimuli while they are young also helps them adapt to and handle new stimuli later in life and results in lower likelihood of behavior problems arising when they are older.  Interns have had the opportunity to help with socializing and training the puppies, which is arguably the best part of our internship.  Being swarmed by excited wolf pups is an experience like no other.