Currently, fewer than 300 red wolves survive in the world today, mostly in captivity. While these animals once roamed the southern and eastern United States from Texas to New England, by the early 1900s, they had been virtually wiped out by hunters and farmers who considered them as threats. Today, the red wolf is a federally protected endangered species.
Now, Brookgreen Gardens – a nature preserve in South Carolina established in 1931 – is expecting to receive three red wolves from a zoo in Ohio as part of an effort to revive this critically endangered species in South Carolina and other states. The plan is to breed these wolves in captivity for displays at zoos or even release in eastern North Carolina and, possibly, in the low country of South Carolina.
“These animals are disappearing and if we don’t do something to help them, you’re going to just be looking at pictures or cadavers in a museum,” said Andrea DeMuth, an animals curator at Brookgreen Gardens. “You’re not going to be looking at the real thing.”
The initial three wolves going to Brookgreen will be young males, to be followed by two breeding pairs of wolves. “We started very similar,” said Eric Albers, the curator of animal operations at the Akron Zoo in Ohio, from which the wolves will be brought to South Carolina. “We had a pair of (females) to let us get used to working with red wolves and handling them before we got a breeding pair. With a new facility, it makes a lot of sense.’’
Since today only 21 red wolves are living in the wild at the Alligator River (down from 120 in 2012), increased efforts are needed to restore this population. Another possible place for releasing some of the captive wolves include the 259,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina. However, many fear that releasing these animals into the wild is problematic, since they tend to breed with coyotes.
“We’re going to make our coyotes about 25 pounds larger, your turkey population is going to get decimated, your white-tailed deer population is going to get decimated,” said David Strickland, a Lowcountry hunter interested in tracking the red wolf situation. “Your bobcats are going to lose all of their prey species. They are going to become a targeted species.’’
Other scientists and conservationists, such as Ron Sutherland, the chief scientist at the Wildlands Network conservation organization, consider such recovery plans necessary. “The recovery plan calls for a total of three (separate) populations, so that could certainly bring South Carolina back into play. Francis Marion-Cape Romain still seems like a pretty good spot to me to think about red wolf recovery,” he concluded.
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By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer