One of the initial reasons why red wolves almost became extinct was because of hybridization with coyotes. The USFWS goes to great lengths to keep coyotes out of the established territories that the wild red wolf population now resides in so that hybridization will not continue to take place. However, importing coyotes to the areas surrounding the red wolf population has resulted in an increase in the number of coyotes and, ultimately, leads to a greater risk of hybridization once again. The problem lies in the fact that the coyotes aren’t always caught by the hunters once released into the wild, and the pens that the animals are kept in before being released are typically not made very well, and a lot of coyotes end up escaping. Therefore, the coyote population (which is already in abundance) has increased at an even faster rate.
There are many struggles that face the wild red wolf population at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR). I have already mentioned gunshot mortality and domestic dog diseases as two of the main problems that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must address on a regular basis. However, another pressing issue is the importation of coyotes for the practice of coyote hunting, which can threaten the red wolf population in more ways than one.
Coyote importation is not the only threat to red wolves when it comes to the practice of hunting. “Coyote night lighting” is a form of night hunting that involves using a spotlight to catch the reflection of an animal’s eyes instead of actually seeing the animal like one would during the day. This type of practice can have serious negative effects on the red wolf population because the hunters have no way of knowing what species of animal they are shooting. At least during the day, hunters have a better chance of recognizing which species they are shooting at by observing physical characteristics such as the bushiness of the tail or the width of the snout. However, with night lighting they are unable to see any part of the animal clearly other than the eyes. Therefore, they are at a much greater risk of shooting a red wolf instead of a coyote.
When having to deal with increased gunshot mortality, coyote importation and coyote night lighting, there is no doubt that coyote hunting is the biggest threat to the wild red wolf population. Less than a year ago, there was another topic that had the potential to threaten red wolves, as well. Fortunately, the proposal to place a naval outlying landing field (OLF) in the area was rejected largely due to the protests of local residents and wildlife enthusiasts. Stay tuned for my next post where I will discuss the hazards that the OLF could have brought to the red wolf popualtion, as well as other wildlife populations such as migratory birds.