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