Monday, June 20, 2011

There’s More Than One Way To Catch a Wolf!

The first attempt at finding a den this year offered the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists a new challenge. Finding this particular den was going to be easy….it already had been spotted from the air during a telemetry flight. The challenge in this case was that we wanted to get our hands on the mother as well as the pups.

[Red wolf den. Photo credit: D. Rabon/USFWS]

Female wolf 1686F was wearing a radio-collar that was near the end of its battery life. We needed to change her collar to prevent losing radio contact with her. The conventional method for catching a wolf to change its collar is to set modified leg-hold traps. For a mother with young pups, however, that’s not an option because there is always some risk involved (albeit small given the design of the trap). Instead, we decided our best option would be to sneak up to her den without being detected and capture her in a net as she exited. As you can see from the photo every once in a while a plan comes together!

[Red wolf captured. Photo credit: A. Johnson/USFWS]

Once her collar was replaced, we processed her pups, placed the pups back in the den, followed by mom, and moved on to our next den search.

[Replacing a radio-telemetry collar. Photo credit: A. Johnson/USFWS]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

2011: A Good Year for Red Wolf Recruitment

As the 2011 denning season winds down for the Red Wolf Recovery Program, the tally of red wolf pups born in the wild appears to be 46. This was an unexpectedly strong year for recruitment in the wild population. The number of mortalities of breeding wolves in recent years presented a challenge in optimism going into this year's denning season. Fortunately, 11 pairs of breeding wolves, including seven newly formed pairs and first time breeders, gave us a lot to be optimistic about.

[Red wolf pups. Photo credit: R. Nordsven/USFWS]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Celebrate Endangered Species Day 2011

On 20 May 2011 the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will observe Endangered Species Day.

Endangered Species Day is an opportunity for people young and old to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions that people can take to help protect our nation’s disappearing wildlife and last remaining open space. Protecting America’s wildlife and plants today is a legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren, so that all Americans can experience the rich variety of native species that help to define our nation.

Started by the United States Senate, Endangered Species Day is the third Friday in May. Every year, thousands of people throughout the country celebrate Endangered Species Day at parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, libraries, schools and community centers. You can participate in festivals, field trips, park tours, community clean-ups, film showings, classroom presentations, and many other fun and educational activities.

In partnership with the Endangered Species Coalition and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, events will be scheduled throughout the country. Go to for more information on Endangered Species Day events near you!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where there's a Will, there's a way.

Having the chance to ride along with the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists a few weeks ago as they began their annual search for red wolf dens, I can back up Ryan’s recent blog postings that finding dens takes a great deal of patience and effort. After the first few days I wondered if the biologists were setting me up by looking for dens in locations that could test the abilities of a triathlete. However the reward of finding a litter was well worth the briar scratches and tick plucking, and it was apparent that these kinds of areas provided the wolves needed cover and security as they go about the business of rearing their young.

[Will tests his "sixth sense" in finding a den. Photo credit: A. Beyer/USFWS]

With the miles of dirt roads, fields, and drainage ditches it’s easy to get disoriented as the biologists rattle off the name of this or that pack, road, or location. Radio telemetry no doubt helps, but when combined with their experience, knowledge of the area, and an uncanny sixth sense, the crew has remarkable success locating dens.

[Will finds his very first red wolf pup in the wild. Photo credit: A. Beyer/USFWS]

As coordinator for the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, being able to help search for wild dens gave me the opportunity to take a step back and look at the Red Wolf Recovery Program from a “big picture” perspective. It also underscored that there are many individuals, agencies, and organizations committed to ensuring that red wolves will continue to thrive. -- Will

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Wolf Named "Willy"

During the third week of April, in the midst of our annual search for red wolf dens, biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program were accompanied by a special guest, Red Wolf SSP (Species Survival Plan) Coordinator, Will Waddell. Will, based at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, has been leading the red wolf captive-breeding effort for nearly 20 years. In doing so, he has been involved in the birth and care of countless litters of captive red wolf pups. But, surprisingly, he has never been involved in the finding and processing of a litter of wild red wolf pups. This particular denning season he was able to lend the field biologists a helping hand, and we were more than happy to have him on board.

After a lengthy, hot, and unsuccessful search amidst a large block of pine trees and tangles of briars on the first day of Will's visit, Day 2 proved to be much more rewarding. The den was located under a grove of myrtle bushes in the middle of, what else, a large patch of briars, to a first time mother. Although we were hoping for a litter from her this year, we weren’t really counting on one because of her young age. So, finding that she had had a litter, even though it was only one pup, was a pleasant surprise. After realizing the healthy week-old pup was a male, Will declared “We’ll have to call him Willy!”

Technically, red wolves are not given names, and this pup will be no different. Rather, he will be assigned a studbook number (by his namesake, ironically) to which he will be officially referred. But unofficially, he may very well be known for some time by the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists as the wolf named “Willy”. -- Ryan

[Will and Willy. Photo credit: A. Beyer/USFWS]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Denning Season Is Here Again

It’s that time of year again. The days are growing longer and notably warmer, and field biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program find themselves spending the majority of their days climbing, crawling, and wriggling under the hot sun through some of the most inhospitable habitat imaginable. Ticks, chiggers, horseflies, poison ivy, and entanglements of briars are just a few of the obstacles in their path as they embark on this year’s search for a fuzzy new generation of red wolves. Despite the unpleasantries, denning season is without a doubt the highlight of the year for biologists. It is this new recruitment of red wolf puppies each spring that essentially represents the fruits of the previous year’s labor. Each year, the number of new wolf litters allows biologists to gauge how successful the previous year’s efforts were in trapping and tracking wolves, dealing with mortalities, forming new pairs, and preventing hybridization.

[Red wolf pups approx. 7 days old. Photo: R. Nordsven/USFWS]

This year’s den search got off to a nice start. The first two litters found were of partially unknown parentage. Of course, the maternal sides of the pups’ pedigrees were known. It was the paternal side that was in question. Fortunately, blood results indicated that the puppies from both litters were indeed pure red wolves and not wolf/coyote hybrids. This was great news, and it gave us a new sense of optimism right out of the gate regarding this year’s denning season. Adding to our optimism was the fact that both of the females were first time mothers, having taken over as the new breeding females after the deaths of their own mothers. We weren’t sure if we would get litters out of these females this year, so again, it was a great start.

[Taking a blood sample from a Milltail Pack pup. Photo: D.J. Sharp]

The next litter discovered was from the Milltail Pack on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. There were no pedigree questions here as we knew who both parents were. And it was even more good news when we found seven healthy puppies. An average red wolf litter is four pups, so a litter of seven is always a welcome sight.

[Red wolf pups approx. 12 days old. Photo: R. Nordsven/USFWS]

Additional litters were found during the next several days; the current count stands at nine litters and 37 pups, with a few more possible litters yet to be found. Following a tough year of losing a number of breeding wolves due to premature mortality, this is shaping up to be a surprisingly good year of pup production. -- Ryan

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

To honor our planet and celebrate Earth Day 2011, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Red Wolf Recovery Program are hosting a very special Earth Day howling safari on Saturday, April 23rd. The event starts at 7:00 pm at the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot. No registration is required, but space is limited. For more information, please visit our Howling Safaris website.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Settling In

My name is Jessica, and I am the current red wolf caretaker intern for the Red Wolf Recovery Program. My time at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has been everything I have dreamed of and so much more.

I started on a Monday by moving into the caretaker's cabin at Sandy Ridge, the Red Wolf Recovery Program's captive-holding facility. It was better than anything that I had thought would be provided in the woods. I have lights and heat and I even on occasion have running water and electricity. After getting settled into my cabin I was given a tour of the wolf enclosures where I would be spending most of my days. And on my first night in the cabin, the wolves howled for me. It was a great first day!

Over the rest of that week I began feeding the wolves on my own. I was also having animals brought in that would be staying for a couple of days that I had to get settled in by myself. I wasn’t sure if life could get better at that point.

Later, once I was comfortable with my regular duties and daily tasks, I went with one of the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologist to check traps. Though we didn’t catch anything that day I learned a lot. I saw how to set traps and what to look for when choosing a location for traps. I learned what made one place better than another. -- Jessica

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pack Intact

Just prior to red wolf whelping/denning season last April (2010), biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program were alarmed at the sudden disappearance of female red wolf 1470F, the breeding female of the Northern Pack. 1470F was then just short of four years old, and had recently formed a new pair bond in her natal territory with male red wolf 1628M. Program biologists were hopeful she would have her first litter that year.

During whelping season, biologists conduct radio telemetry flights three times a week in an effort to pinpoint when and where each breeding female is denning. When a female restricts her movements to a particular place it is assumed that she is denning. Biologists then use ground radio telemetry to track to her and the den. Just as it appeared that 1470F was beginning to restrict her movements and establish a den, her radio telemetry signal was lost. Had something bad happened to her? Or was it simply a malfunctioning radio telemetry collar. We had hoped for the latter.

The only way to know for sure what had happened to 1047F was to set traps in an effort to capture her. Trapping would have to wait, though. If she was still around, and if she had a litter of pups, it would be too risky to capture her while she was raising a litter. Attempts to capture her would have to wait until the pups, if there were any, were large enough to be trapped and fitted with a radio telemetry collar.

Then, in June, a graduate student conducting research on red wolves was working in the Northern Pack’s territory when he happened to see three wolf puppies. As luck would have it, we were able to capture one of the puppies. A blood sample was taken, and genetics results confirmed the pup to be the offspring of 1470F and 1628M. This was great news! We now knew that 1470F had indeed given birth to her first litter. But we still weren’t sure of her presence. The pup, of course, was released right away to rejoin his pack.

In January (2011), we decided the pups would finally be big enough to be safely captured and fitted with a radio telemetry collar. Traps were set, and three pups were quickly captured, including the pup we had captured the previous June; they were in perfect health. Soon after, 1628M, the breeding male, was captured along with a fourth pup. But there was still no sign of mom. Finally, about a week later, our lucky day arrived. A strong, healthy 1470F was caught in our trap. The radio telemetry collar she was wearing had malfunctioned. We replaced it with a new one, and released the entire family back into their territory. -- Ryan

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The life of 904F

Back in September (2010), the Red Wolf Recovery Program lost one of the longest-lived, wild red wolves in the program’s history. Female red wolf, known as 904F, who spent most of her life as the matriarch of the Milltail Pack on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, was discovered dead on the west side of the refuge near the community of East Lake, Dare County, North Carolina. It appeared as if she died from natural causes.

904F was born on the west side of the refuge in the spring of 1997. She became the breeding female of the Milltail Pack when she was just two years of age, and held that position for many years raising several litters of pups. In late 2006, 904F was pushed out of her natal home range by a younger, stronger female red wolf.

[904F at 10 years of age, showing off her facial scars]

904F was captured again in 2007, and at 10 years of age she appeared to be weakening and wasn't expected to live much longer. However, she continued to surprise Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists with her resiliency, surviving three more winters and establishing a new territory for herself on private property well south of her natal range. It remains a mystery why she came back to her place of birth on the refuge just before she died.

Female red wolf 904F lived a full life, and will continue to be well represented by her offspring for generations to come. In fact, her son, 1544M, now nearly five years of age, is the breeding male of the Milltail Pack. -- Ryan

[1544M at 8 months of age, showing off his new radio telemetry collar]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Management Techniques: Processing a Red Wolf

Once a red wolf has been captured, it is placed in a kennel and transported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Red Wolf Education and Health Care Facility, where it is “processed” before being released.

Wild red wolves are instinctively fearful of humans and are generally docile when handled. A wolf is typically restrained by placing a muzzle over its mouth, tying its hind legs together, and keeping a hand on its shoulder to hold it down. Occasionally a wolf may resist being muzzled to the extent that it must be sedated for the processing. Either way, all precautions are taken to maximize the safety of the wolf as well as the biologists handling the wolf.

Processing involves recording the wolf’s weight and body measurements, drawing a blood sample for future research, administering vaccines to prevent rabies and other common canid diseases, assessing the overall health of the wolf, and finally, fitting it with either a GPS or VHF radio telemetry collar so that it can be monitored upon release. After the processing is complete, the wolf is transported back to its home range and released.