Saving the red wolf

One of the critically endangered red wolves housed at the Endangered Wolf Center

One of the critically endangered red wolves housed at Endangered Wolf Center.                              Photo c/o Endangered Wolf Center.

 

Unique species nearly exterminated

What makes the red wolf so special? For one thing, the red wolf is one of only two wolf species indigenous to North America. Second, the red wolf can be found ONLY in the U.S. – no other country in the world has a native population of red wolves. Third, at its lowest point in the 1970s, the wild red wolf population had dwindled to a mere 14 wolves in the world.

This beautiful representative of our country is smaller than his gray wolf cousin, and typically weigh between 50-80 pounds. Wolf Haven International participates in a special program that is contributing to the recovery of the red wolf. The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) program is headquartered at Point Defiance Zoo in Washington State.

What happened to the red wolf?

Red wolves were victims of predator extermination programs and habitat loss. The original red wolf range extended throughout the southeast portion of the United States. As gray wolves were eradicated, coyotes experienced a population explosion and radically expanded their range east. Simultaneously, as the red wolf population fell, coyotes and red wolves began to interbreed.

Red wolf SSP Coordinator and studbook keeper, Will Waddell, opens the meeting by welcoming the institutional representatives who traveled to MO. for the meeting.

Red wolf SSP Coordinator and studbook keeper, Will Waddell, opens the meeting by welcoming the institutional representatives who traveled to MO. for the meeting. Photo c/o Endangered Wolf Center.

How do you save a red wolf?

A red wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) was developed to manage and oversee the captive population of this endangered species, in consort with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  Although the Service is currently not releasing captive red wolves into the wild, the SSP maintains a genetically diverse captive population as a safety net, should something happen to the wolves in the wild. Today there are approximately 75 free ranging (wild) red wolves  roaming their native habitat in northeastern North Carolina in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, and a captive population of just under 200 red wolves among 45 facilities in the U.S. As is the case with the Mexican wolf SSP program, annual conferences are held during which representatives of participating facilities meet to discuss the status of the red wolf, and make critical transfer and breeding recommendations for the coming year. The 2015 red wolf SSP conference was held July 22-24 at Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, MO, outside of St. Louis.

Becky Harrison, assistant recovery coordinator for the red wolf, provides an update on the status of the wild population.

Becky Harrison, assistant recovery coordinator for the red wolf, provides an update on the status of the wild population. Photo c/o Endangered Wolf Center.

Wolf Haven’s role in red wolf recovery efforts

In 2003, Wolf Haven was approved to participate in the Red Wolf SSP program as a captive breeding facility. The red wolves living here are essentially on loan to us from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and we follow very strict rules and guidelines for the care and maintenance of these animals. Interaction with humans is kept to a minimum and most observations are done by remote camera. Specialized enclosures have been built that meet the size, space and privacy requirements of the Red wolf SSP program.

Our red wolf residents – meet Jacob, Tamaska, Tala & Nash

There are currently four red wolves in residence in the sanctuary, though they are not on the visitor route. Jacob, Tamaska and Tala are all available for symbolic adoption, and Nash will be in the near future, once she has settled in at her new home.

by Wendy Spencer, Director of Animal Care and Kim Young, Director of Communications/ Wolf Haven International

Saving the Mexican gray wolf

Noel is one of the 19 Mexican gray wolves currently residing at Wolf Haven.

Noel is one of the 19 Mexican gray wolves currently residing at Wolf Haven.

How to save  an endangered species

The Mexican gray wolf, native to Mexico and the U.S.,  is one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. Their population dwindled to only seven wolves when a “survival plan” was put into place.

The Endangered Species Act, which mandates recovery of endangered species, prevented the complete human eradication of the Mexican wolf. By the early 1970s when the Act went into effect, their population was so low that wildlife officials felt the only option for restoration of this wolf was captive breeding and reintroduction to historic ranges.

Precarious existence of the Mexican wolf

Once common from Mexico to Colorado, today there are approximately 109 Mexican wolves left in the wild, mainly along the Arizona-New Mexico border (with one known wild pack in Mexico).  A Mexican wolf Species Survival Plan (MWSSP) was developed to manage and oversee the captive breeding program and lend support to the reintroduction and recovery effort of the species in the wild. The MWSSP currently houses approximately 270 wolves in 52 facilities in the United States and Mexico.

Participants of the 2015 MWSSP meeting held at Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, Mexico.

Participants of the 2015 MWSSP meeting held at Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, Mexico.

Because the entire Mexican wolf population was founded by only seven animals,  genetic diversity remains one of the biggest challenges to the health of this species. For this reason, careful analysis of each individual Mexican wolf’s lineage and genetic DNA are of critical importance to the program’s success. Participating facilities in the MWSSP program meet annually to assess the current status of the Mexican wolf population and make breeding recommendations for the coming spring. The meetings alternate between the U.S. and Mexico, with varying organizations assuming the role of host agency. Wolf Haven hosted the MWSSP in 2012; this year, it was held in Mexico City at Chapultepec Zoo.

Xochitl Ramos, chief veterinarian for the MWSS's Mexican committee; Pamela Maciel, Wolf Haven's Mexican wolf specialist; Monica Galicia, SEMARNAT (Mexico's environment ministry) representative

Xochitl Ramos, chief veterinarian for the MWSSP’s Mexican committee; Pamela Maciel, Wolf Haven’s Mexican wolf specialist; Monica Galicia, SEMARNAT (Mexico’s environment ministry) representative.

Our director of animal care, Wendy Spencer, and Mexican wolf specialist Pamela Maciel attended this year’s meeting, which lasted from July 15-17. Here are some pictures from the three intense days in which breeding and transfer recommendations were made, and potential candidates for release into the wild were selected (most important, since this is the ultimate purpose of the program). It is a challenging, but worthy balancing act to ensure that not only are the needs of the program as a whole met, but the best outcome for each individual wolf involved is achieved.

Wendy Spencer (far left), Wolf Haven's director of animal care and member of the MWSSP management group, assess transfer, housing and pairing possibilities with colleagues.

Wendy Spencer (far left), Wolf Haven’s director of animal care and member of the MWSSP management group, assess transfer, housing and pairing possibilities with colleagues.

As a result from last year’s MWSSP meeting breeding recommendations, three pair of Mexican wolves at Wolf Haven gave birth to litters this spring. There are currently a total of 19 Mexican wolves living at our sanctuary (11 adults and 8 pups). This makes a total of eight litters of Mexican pups that have been born at Wolf Haven between 1996 and 2015. Some of the first Mexican wolves released back into the southwest – after an absence of nearly 40 years – came from here. Mexican wolves from Wolf Haven have been released in 1998 and 2000. The births and releases were all direct outcomes of recommendations made at these annual meetings.

Mexican biologists, veterinarians and wolf caretakers discuss                  transfer possibilities with Peter Siminski (MWSSP Coordinator).

Mexican biologists, veterinarians and wolf caretakers discuss transfer possibilities with Peter Siminski (MWSSP Coordinator).

Wolf Haven International is proud to participate in this special program that is contributing to the recovery of the Mexican wolf.

A total of over 60 people from Mexico and the U.S. attended this year's meeting, including some graduate students from Mexican universities.

A total of over 60 people from Mexico and the U.S. attended this year’s meeting, including graduate students from Mexican universities conducting research on the biology of Mexican wolves.

Blog produced by Pamela Maciel, Mexican wolf specialist & Kim Young, Director of Communications,
Wolf Haven International