We previously discussed the shameful loss of the famed Denali wolf pack to hunting and development. Now North Carolina is on the brink of losing the last of its wild population of endangered red wolves. These beautiful and iconic animals have been reduced to just a few dozen due to the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials (and state officials) to take necessary action to protect them.
The last red wolves will likely disappear this decade. Only about 40 wolves remain in the wild in eastern North Carolina. That is an 80 wolf decline from a decade ago.
While the government spends about $1 million to protect the wolves, it is being sued for its failure to continue key programs to protect the population, including better enforcement and dealing with competing populations of coyotes.
The leading cause of death is hunters with more than 80 dying from gunshot wounds over the last 25 years.
We will waste billions in placed like Afghanistan or Iraq without a blink but we will not spend a few millions to preserve one of our greatest treasures from our forests. The loss of these magnificent animals in the wild is an indictment of both federal and state officials in North Carolina.
19 thoughts on “Red Wolf Population Close To Extinction”
This is being interpreted as the loss of a native red wolf population but that simply isn’t the case. Instead, it is a red wolf reintroduction program that isn’t working.
In 1980, the red wolf population was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as biologically extinct and the last pair of red wolves were removed from the wild. Eleven years earlier, in 1969, a red wolf captive breeding program was initiated at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington.
In 1987, a red wolf reintroduction program began with the release of mating pairs at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina. An identical program was attempted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but was halted with the discovery that there were insufficient food sources available for the wolves. In 1988, the first litter of pups was born at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2006, the red wolf population at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina peaked at 120-130 animals. There simply isn’t enough available habitat remaining in the eastern U.S. to increase the red wolf population to the extent some prefer. Additionally, the reintroduction of the red wolf is affected by hybridization – the mating of red wolves with coyotes in the wild that leads to the destruction of the red wolf gene pool.
Good point. I would like to add that one distinct difficulty with coyote/wolf hybrids is that they often lack the shyness of humans innate in wolves.
There is often a good reason why an animal becomes extinct. These are evolutionary dead ends, a failed experiment. Sometimes, human encroachment is to blame. That sounds like a straightforward issue to address. It is one thing if an animal is maladapted to its environment, but another if humans accidentally wipe it out. However, take the mountain lion. A male lion’s home territory can cover hundreds of square miles in order to include his very specific hunting areas. It will overlap several females’ home ranges. They prefer large game like deer or bighorn sheep. If a male finds kittens, he’ll kill them to bring a female back into estrus. Therefore, their population is slow growth and susceptible to sharp declines under the best of circumstances. Here in CA, there are no more antelope at all, and very few bighorn sheep. There are a lot fewer deer. That tends to happen when the greenest areas of a drought state are carpeted in housing developments. Cougars like rocky high areas and forests on the edge of open areas. Much of the forests of CA are gone. It is unlikely that we will tell millions of people to move out of state so that we can reclaim cougar habitat. What we are left with are fragmented connected corridors where cougars eke out territories. Since that puts them into contact with people, they can discover that goats, alpacas, and other small livestock make great substitutes for deer. They can lose their fear of people, and then they get shot, further reducing their viability.
In order for the cougar to really thrive, they need more land and less people. Not likely in CA, a sanctuary state with relatively open borders and millions of people in population. In the cougar’s case, humans outcompete it for territory. This trend is just going to continue. Over the course of future decades, the big cat will have less and less land, and there will be less and less prey. At some point, it will lose CA entirely.
Our own evolutionary limiting factor will likely be population growth. Perhaps we will strain the food carrying capacity of our own habitat, essentially most of the land mass on planet Earth, or we may denude enough vegetation or damage marine phytoplankton enough as to impact the gaseous profile. Or maybe we will quarrel over land and resources. We are not only most other animals’ competing species for habitat, but our own, as well…
Before you blame hunters, please consider this:
“A recent global study found that the red wolf has lost 99.7 percent of its historical territory—more than any other large carnivore. What remains of its historical range is 1.7 million acres of private and public land in Eastern North Carolina. This matrix of agricultural fields, pine plantations, pocosin wetlands and forests, provides sufficient connectivity and prey for the time being, but is inadequate for the long-term sustainability of red wolves.
The greatest threat to the red wolf is the way in which the species is being managed. Unnecessary removals from private lands, lethal take permits for non-problem wolves, the abandonment of the adaptive management strategy, and a reluctance to address poaching has led to a drastic decline of the red wolf’s population over the course of just a few years. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) fails to take proactive measures, the species could go extinct in the wild in less than a decade.
However, the FWS has signaled its reluctance to take the necessary action to continue red wolf recovery efforts. In fact, in 2016, the FWS proposed a plan to largely abandon recovery efforts. In particular, the agency proposed removing most red wolves from the wild, shrinking the species’ wild territory by 88 percent and confining wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent federal lands. This would only leave room for a single wild pack of red wolves, and would effectively extinguish what remains of the red wolf’s historic territory.”
Also, major threats to Denali wolves are being killed by other wolves, and mange.
When a wolf leaves his pack, he discovers that existing packs already hold the good hunting ground. If a territory is empty, there is usually a reason. He will encounter other packs looking for mates, and will get in fights, possibly killed. It will be extremely difficult for the lone wolf to pull down large prey. Their strength is as cooperative hunters, and it’s hard to cooperate with only yourself. The lone wolf is also at risk of having run ins with humans as it passes through, looking for a mate, territory, and prey. Cattle calves look a lot like prey.
Add to all that and one of my favorite animals can easily fall prey to a tiny burrowing mite. Mange is a long, bad way to go.
Oh, and by the by, that deadly mange was deliberately introduced at the turn of the century by a state wildlife veterinarian in a state program to eradicate wolves and coyotes. This is one of the myriad examples why one must not trust in government to have answers to every problem. Sometimes, even the most learned can be horribly, terribly wrong, but they have bureaucratic control.
Please don’t tell Uday and Qusay Trump about this or we will be seeing pictures of them with dead red Wolves.
Good one, FishWings. So true, so sad.
Da cruel to animal pops of trophy killin Eric and Donny Jr. just made it legal to kill hibernating bear cubs and wolves. Turley supports T rump and his rottin cabinet yet claims to care about da animals and da environment. Somethin does not pass da smell test.
Ken, Good point. I’d like to see Mr. Turley reflect upon Scott Pruitt’s performance in the Dumpster Fire..
North Carolina has been settled territory for about 300 years, but has been one of the fastest growing states in the US in recent decades. That probably has something to do with the impending extinction of this species.
The runaway human population growth in Africa means that before long any mammal that isn’t very small and able to hide very well will be extinct in the wild. That will be due to habitat loss along with economic exploitation for the Oriental medicines and bush meat trades. In Europe and North America there are even massive declines in insect populations due to monoculture and pesticide use. And of course that leading to similar mass die-offs of bird species. Meanwhile , the fake “Green” parties have given up on the environment to concentrate on human sexual oddities and support for mass immigration to Europe from the Third World.
It so often depnds on who is doing the counting. Ask the polar bear lady.
Sad that this wolf species perilously relies on bureaucrats and politicians for its existence.
Sadder still that the Republican Party has abandoned its great tradition of being good stewards of the environment. Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt would weep at what the Republican Party has become.
wildbill – please see my link above. Under the Obama administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to abandon its recovery efforts as throwing good money after bad. Almost all of the red wolf population is gone, and the remaining available habitat in the East is a patchwork of open space in between farms and housing developments.
I love the wolf. The coyotes is superior at adapting to human habitation.
The red wolf was plagued with mismanagement, even though scientists were at the helm and they threw millions of dollars at the problem.
I will keenly mourn the loss (once again) of the red wolf in the wild, just as I did when they went extinct outside of zoos and breeding facilities back in the 1980s. However, I don’t know the answer. It’s not like we can ask millions of people along the Eastern side of the US to leave the country. If they move to the West, they will impact mountain lion habitat. If they move to the Central part, that impacts grasslands. It seems unlikely that we can all move to Europe (overcrowded and overburdened already), or South America (rainforest deforestation).
The red wolf would get creamed by the grey wolf if they tried to move it up north. There is insufficient open space in much of the West.
Any animal that requires massive square miles of untouched prime habitat free of human habitation for each handful of individuals is basically screwed.
I wish I had an answer, and maybe one will turn up. But what we are currently doing is not working. It’s really difficult to fight the Evolutionary Machine, of which we are a cog ourselves. This isn’t an example where banning DDT will solve the problem.
Thank you for taking the time to post such an illuminating and well written comment.
Wolves need guns too. So they can shoot back.
People are just going to have keeping them as pets. That way, they can be bred, and their numbers brought back up. Probably better for people without cats, or small children to do it.
Wolves are apex predators and attack cattle. Ranchers have a tendency to shoot them on sight.
California was force-fed a massive bacterial infection and went extinct circa 1960.
I can’t say I feel sorry for this species.
None left that are pure bred but the last four went to a current population from 1960 to 1980 of 400 no figures on current. About 80 were shot. The story is they fulfill important functions in the ecology but none fthose functions were listed in my initial google search. They like to eat meat….No statistics on dangerous to humans are to be found. That’s the precis. from a quick Google Search
If they were like the the one’s out West let loose near grazing land they were probably shot by ranchers
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