Red wolves rejoining the wild little by little

Published 5:56 pm Friday, May 21, 2021

This past week, the North Carolina Zoo announced the good news that their pack of red wolves has expanded. Three litters of red wolf pups were born at the end of April, bringing the zoo’s total population of red wolves to 36.

According to a press release from the zoo, only 15-20 red wolves remain in the wild, and they’re considered “critically endangered,” which is the category right before “extinct in the wild.”

Guests at the zoo might be able to catch a glimpse of the small pups in mid-June, though they will be moved to a non-public habitat part of the zoo not long after that while they are being weaned from the mother. The public will have a chance, however, to be involved with the naming process for the zoo’s newest additions. But details for a naming poll haven’t been released just yet.

The NC Zoo, which is located in Asheboro, has been a part of the American Red Wolf Recovery Program since 1994. They work in collaboration with other zoos across the country to build the endangered animal’s population back up.

I think conservation efforts by zoos are very admirable work. They make sure animals who could disappear forever are protected and raised in safe environments, so that eventually the population can make a comeback in the wild.

While reading the information about the baby wolf pups, I learned something I didn’t know before. Here in the Roanoke-Chowan area we’re pretty close to the only wild population of red wolves in the whole world. They live in northeastern NC on the Albemarle Peninsula. I was curious about why they’re so endangered, and did some further research.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the red wolf used to be pretty common throughout the southeastern part of the country. But, like many other endangered species, the red wolves were affected by hunting and habitat changes. The encroachment of coyotes into the area played a role in dwindling population numbers as well.

By 1980, they were declared extinct in the wild, but thankfully, population recovery efforts were already underway with zoos across the country doing the same thing the NC Zoo continues to do today. In 1987, several red wolves were released into the wild in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina

The population got as high as an estimated 130 wolves by 2011, but has declined dramatically since then, mostly due to humans.

Looking at how long the program has been going on, it’s a bit disheartening to see that there’s no quick turnaround for these kinds of recovery programs. The recent news about the new wolf pups, however, is a good sign for a brighter future for these animals.

The red wolf efforts aren’t the only conservation project the NC Zoo is a part of. They also work to protect and reduce population decline in a number of plants and animals, both native and non-native to our land. Those include Hellbender salamanders, Pine Barrens treefrogs, Carolina gopher frogs, Cross River gorillas, African elephants, Southern White rhinos, and many more.

Though I don’t get to visit as often as I’d like to (the trip to Asheboro takes three hours one way), I’ve always really enjoyed visiting the NC Zoo. It has such a fun, diverse variety of animals that I would never get to see up close otherwise. I have several good memories of walking around the zoo with my family on a few vacation trips, going once on a field trip with my class in middle school, and even taking a day-trip there with my college roommate who was from out-of-state and experiencing the NC Zoo for the first time.

If you get a chance to go, I definitely recommend that you take it!

Of course, there are other zoos and aquariums in the area you can visit as well. There are a couple of aquariums at the beach. The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk isn’t that far north of us. “It’s a Zoo Life” isn’t too far a drive south from here. Bird enthusiasts can check out Sylvan Heights in Scotland Neck. And there’s even our little local mini zoo in downtown Windsor!

I’m not sure about any current COVID restrictions for these places, but they could be interesting to check out too. It’s always a good trip, for the whole family or just for a solo outing, to see the different kinds of animals we share the planet with. You just never know what interesting things you’ll see!

As for me, I look forward to more exciting news from the NC Zoo in the future about new births and new exhibits. I recently read a little bit about plans for a possible expansion, so I’m crossing my fingers that works out.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com 252-332-7206.