In my first post about red wolf history, I ended on the topic of red wolf-coyote hybrids and how they were identified from full-blooded red wolves. Since DNA testing was not available in the 1970’s, biologists used skull comparisons as a way of removing hybrids from the remaining red wolf population so that a breeding program could be started. The recovery program was led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), but they needed a place to start the breeding process. The first red wolf had been placed into captivity in 1969 at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA) in Washington state, which initiated the red wolf captive-breeding center at their facility.
At the time, starting the red wolf breeding and recovery program would not be easy and there was always a chance that it would not succeed. Unfortunately, the remaining 17 wolves were found in a small area of Louisiana where the habitat was less than ideal, and led to the wolves being unhealthy at the time of capture. Only having 14 individuals that could breed also meant that the species would have to be restored with very low genetic diversity. Despite the challenges, the first litter of red wolf pups was born in captivity at PDZA in 1977.
Right: Four-week old pups inside a man-made den. Captive breeding facilities still play a major role in the red wolf recovery program today.
With extensive efforts put forth by everyone involved, the first decade of the breeding program was an apparent success. By 1987, there were enough red wolves in captivity that USFWS officials released four red wolf pairs back into the wild at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in eastern North Carolina. Stay tuned for a later post to learn more about this re-introduction!
Left: Wildlife biologist releasing a red wolf at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
Red wolf pup photo courtesy of Chris Lasher, North Carolina Zoological Park.
Red wolf release photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.