NATURAL SOUTH: Red Wolves
Learn about the history of Red Wolves in the wild and how their numbers started to dwindle as far back as the 1700s. The fragile population is currently being restored from a successful breeding program in North Carolina. (Courtesy: The Southern Company)
Related on MNN: Are gray wolves still endangered?
Michael: It’s generally thought that wolves were bad — evil, sometimes even. And when people first came over from Europe, they brought the prejudice and the feelings that wolves needed to be eliminated in any manner possible.
Buddy: When we first settled this country, Red Wolves did occur here in this area and, in fact, all throughout North Carolina and the Southeastern U.S. As soon as we began settling the country, wolves were trapped and exterminated. We have records from the 1700s that show that the trapping and extermination occurred.
Michael: We’ve got court records from over 100 years ago where wolves in eastern North Carolina were taken and bounties awarded in the court system. We believe those are the last references known to this area of wolves existing in the wild.
Buddy: By the 1970s, there were so few Red Wolves left, only 17 in the wild, that we had to bring the wolves in and begin a captive breeding program. At that point, we declared the Red Wolf extinct in the wild. We had a successful breeding program and in 1987 we reintroduced Red Wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
Michael: Currently, this is the only mainland site of wild Red Wolves in the world.
Buddy: Well, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge was the starting point for the restoration of Red Wolves to North Carolina and has sufficient prey for Red Wolves and there is also a lot of places for the Red Wolves to den and raise pups and go about their basic lives.
Shauna: A wide misconception among many people is that wolves will eat all the deer in a given area. That is inaccurate. Wolves will help to maintain a healthy deer population by eating the sick and the weak animals and removing those animals from the herd.
Leslie: The Red Wolf is smaller than the grey wolf and in that their prey choice seems to lean toward smaller animals, that you don't have one wolf taking down a buck whitetail deer. So you have more of the rodents and the raccoons and the beaver and the nutria playing a bigger part in their nutrition.
Buddy: People grow up with stories of Little Red Riding Hood and the big, bad wolf that’s going to harm them or harm their family. And Red Wolves are not like that. They’re a very quiet, secretive animal. They prefer not to be seen at all.
Shauna: There’s never been a recorded case of a Red Wolf harming or attacking a human in the history of wolves existing among man for the past 200 years.
Narrator: Although wild wolves are shy, their population is too fragile to be left alone completely. These biologists have captured a wild female and will release her again after she’s been vaccinated and outfitted with a new tracking collar.
Michael: And, hopefully, too in … shoot, anywhere from a month to a month and a half, we’ll be able to tell whether she’s got pups and if she’s denning there.
Biologist: Yeah, chances are she’s pregnant.
Michael: Yeah. So we’re gonna get a litter from her.
Biologist: I hope so. We don't want to put it on so tight that it causes neck problems. We tend to err on the side of it falling off rather than being too tight.
Michael: So what we’re gonna do is just let her go and let her run -- hopefully, she’ll just run right down the road and she’s gonna know where she is.
Biologist: Home sweet home.
Michael: She goes, “I know where I am. I know exactly where I am.” To let her go in an area that is really her territory with her mate, you know she’s got a good chance of doing very well, like she has in the past.
Biologist: It’s a shame that we have to go through the whole ordeal of catching them and putting them through that, putting a collar on them, this and that. At this point, I see that it all went off okay and she’s fine and she’s back home. I much rather prefer this part than having to stick her [indistinct], so…
Michael: She’s not acting too concerned, is she?
Biologist: No. She’s been through this a few times.
Buddy: If we work together, we take care of the Red Wolf, we take care of the other wildlife in the area, we take care of the ecosystem, but we also take care of other things that people care about, such as agriculture, farms, the needs of various families out there. There is a way to make it all work together and that’s what we strive for here.
Michael: The Red Wolves aren’t a threat to livestock and they’re not a threat to other wild species. They’re not gonna eat all the deer, for example. These animals develop together over time and they’re just part of the system.
Shauna: In this program, we kind of let nature take its course with where they end up and what habitat they use and learn from them and what they do naturally.