Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 14-20: Wolf Awareness Week and National Wildlife Refuge Week

It’s Wolf Awareness Week! Since 1996, this national event has served to educate folks on the roles wolves play in different natural communities. During Wolf Awareness Week, we encourage you to recognize the importance of wolves as an integral part of our landscapes and to engage others to become interested and active in wolf conservation. Many of our partner organizations are hosting Wolf Awareness Week events and have provided educational resources to continue spreading the word.

[2012 Wolf Awareness Week Poster by Aaron Yount.]

Each year, the Timber Wolf Alliance hosts an art contest to select the vision for the current year's Wolf Awareness Week poster. If you’re interested in ordering this year’s poster, you can request one here.

Wolf Awareness Week is also National Wildlife Refuge Week this year! Since Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has become the nation’s premier habitat conservation network, encompassing 150 million acres in 556 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. You can check out special events and programs through the National Wildlife Refuge System here. Here in North Carolina, the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Alligator National Wildlife National Refuge will be hosting *free* red wolf howlings on Saturdays, Oct. 13th and 27th at 6:00pm. You are welcome to bring your family and learn about the endangered red wolf during a short presentation and visit to the refuge for a chance to hear the howls of the red wolves.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Endless Summer... at Sandy Ridge

Summer is a time of year when the Red Wolf Recovery Program staff tend to retreat from field work, especially trapping. The heat of the summer months makes trapping both somewhat unproductive and potentially dangerous to a trapped wolf. One project undertaken to pass the summer months was to complete some much needed maintenance work at Sandy Ridge, the captive red wolf facility at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

[Before and after photo of the perimeter fence at Sandy Ridge. Photo credit: R. Nordsven/USFWS]

The majority of the maintenance work at Sandy Ridge was completed last summer, just before the arrival of Hurricane Irene (Category 1 hurricane making landfall near Cape Lookout, North Carolina on August 27, 2011). The work involved clearing trees that had grown into pens and through the perimeter fencing, as well as repairing damage to fences from fallen trees. Luckily, none of the trees were as large as the trees that fell during Hurricane Isabel, a Category 2 hurricane that made landfall between Cape Lookout and Ocracoke Island, North Carolina on September 18, 2003.

[Downed tree at Sandy Ridge after Hurricane Isabel 2003. Photo credit: USFWS]

Hurricane Isabel tracked its way across the mainland causing a great deal of damage to the Sandy Ridge facility, uprooting trees and destroying fences and sheds. Unfortunately, one large tree killed a captive red wolf when it fell on the den box where the wolf was riding out the storm. The destruction from Hurricane Isabel required many months of cleanup and repair. Thankfully, Irene proved to be much easier on the Red Wolf Recovery Program staff and wolves. Other than a few downed branches and limbs, the only real damage was to one side of an unoccupied pen that was hit by a fallen tree. Fortunately, this time, no wolves were harmed! -- Ryan

[Destroyed shed at Sandy Ridge after Hurricane Isabel 2003. Photo credit: USFWS]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Fostering First!

This year marks a first in red wolf pup fostering in the Red Wolf Recovery Program. But first, what is fostering?

Fostering is when pups from one litter (typically a captive-born litter) are placed in another litter (typically a wild-born litter) to be raised by parents that are not their own. Fostering pups from a captive litter to a wild litter has been a successful tool used by the Red Wolf Recovery Program as a means to increase the numbers of wild red wolves and enhance the genetic diversity of the wild population.

[Captive-born red wolf pups soon to be fostered into a wild litter. Photo credit: D. Beeland/USFWS]

The Red Wolf Recovery Program first fostered pups into a wild litter in 2002. A pair of two-week old pups born at the North Carolina Zoological Park were placed in a wild wolf den to be raised alongside the wild pups. The fostering was a success, and subsequent fostering efforts have yielded equal success. In fact, no wild red wolf mother has ever been known to reject a fostered pup, and the fostered pups’ survival rates appear to be equal to that of their wild-born “siblings.”

A few stipulations are adhered to when fostering pups, though. First, the pups are ideally no more than two-weeks of age at the time of the fostering. The mother’s maternal instinct is believed to be very strong with pups of this age, which decreases the likelihood of pup rejection. Also, the pups have limited mobility at this age, increasing the likelihood that they will stay in the den and not wander off before the mother returns. Another stipulation is that the captive-born pups should be very close in age to the wild-born pups. This decreases the likelihood of some of the pups out-competing others for food. Lastly, a potential foster mother is usually selected based on her having a relatively low number of pups in her litter, coupled with her proven ability to have successfully raised a litter in previous years. When combined, these conditions increase the likelihood that the mother wolf will be able to successfully raise a couple of extra pups added to her litter.

[Fostered red wolf pups in a den with their new "siblings." Photo credit: D. Beeland/USFWS]

So, what was so special about fostering pups in 2012? Well, this year we fostered two captive-born pups into a litter of three wild-born pups that were born to a mother that was once a captive-born fostered pup! In addition, two other wild red wolves (1 male and 1 female) that were once fostered pups had litters of their own this year!

These are a few of the great examples of how successful fostering pups has been through the years for the Red Wolf Recovery Program. -- Ryan

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So you want to be a vet?

[The following blog was written by Alayna McGarry, a former Red Wolf Caretaker intern with the Red Wolf Recovery Program. Currently, Alayna is a Biological Science Technician with the Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico.]

Whenever I have told people that I want to work with animals, they automatically ask me, “So you want to be a veterinarian then?”  I’ve always replied that I just wasn’t interested in that aspect of animals.  I would much rather go out into the wild and study their behaviors.  Of course they look at me like I’m crazy!  But after an incident at the vet’s office I now know that I’ll never be a vet, even if I wanted to!

One morning I was out at Sandy Ridge feeding the captive red wolves when I received a call from Michael, one of the Red Wolf Recovery Program biologists.  He told me he was planning to take a female coyote to get sterilized at the veterinarian’s office.  He asked for help capturing her, and since I had nothing else on my schedule I tagged along for the experience!  I had never actually watched a live surgery, but I love Grey’s Anatomy so I thought it would be similar.  Boy was I wrong!  I was in the operating room with the coyote on one table and a golden retriever being neutered on the other.  I was intrigued at what they were doing to the coyote but I tried not to pay too much attention to the retriever!  The coyote was only getting her tubes tied so it wasn’t a very invasive surgery, unlike the neutering.  Luckily, I had Michael there to distract me from what was going on.  While I watched from my peripherals I started to notice different body parts being pulled out of the retriever.  I started to think to myself, "That just isn’t natural."  We started to talk about the music that was on the radio and before I knew it I had forgotten about the surgeries.

After talking about random stuff for ten minutes, Michael said he would be right back.  "This isn’t going to be good," I thought.  I had nothing to distract me.  I didn’t want to pull out my cellphone because I didn’t want to insult the doctors.  I tried to watch the surgery and look as if I was interested in what was going on.  I’m sure they could tell by the look on my face that I was more disgusted than I was interested.  I started to focus on the retriever’s surgery and couldn’t get myself to stop watching.  The doctor was pulling out the different body parts and shoving them back in! Gross!  Next thing I knew, I started to get really warm and light headed.  I realized what was happening and pulled out my phone to try and distract myself.  It didn’t work.  I started to stare into space and lean to one side.  Just at that moment, Michael came back in and grabbed me.  He said he was trying to figure out what I was staring at when he realized that I was about to pass out.  He took me outside to get some fresh air and I felt much better!  I eventually went back into the OR to finish out her surgery but I made sure to stay distracted.  I was really embarrassed that I didn’t have the stomach for the surgery, but they invited me back!  Maybe I’ll eventually be able to watch the whole thing without a problem.  At least when someone asks me now if I want to be a vet, I can give them a good story as to why that will never be my profession!

Here’s a picture of me with a red wolf and one of the veterinarians that came out to Sandy Ridge for the annual checkup of the captive wolves. I was fine that day because there wasn’t any blood! -- Alayna

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To be, or not to be... scared?

[The following blog was written by Alayna McGarry, a former Red Wolf Caretaker intern with the Red Wolf Recovery Program. Currently, Alayna is a Biological Science Technician with the Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico.]

When I began my internship last August (2011) with the Red Wolf Recovery Program, I was still scared of working with the wolves.  My previous experience with the red wolves wasn’t the best.  At the time, I was an intern at the Salisbury Zoo (Salisbury, Maryland), a Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP) facility, where we had a mom and her four pups.  Whenever I went into their exhibit they followed me around.  Not knowing their behavior really well, I thought they stalked me because they wanted me for food!  It also didn’t help that a young boy once screamed, “Watch out! They’re gonna get her!”  I was terrified!  I now know that the wolves are just curious.  They’re more scared of me than I am of them!  The captive-born zoo wolves were a little more used to humans, so they got a little bit closer than normal.

Once I arrived at Sandy Ridge for my orientation, I was told that I would be back with the wolves by myself.  "Great," I thought, "now if I get attacked no one will know!"  Before I knew it, it was 7:30 AM on my first day and there wasn’t a single bird chirping.  It was complete silence, just me and the wolves.  I checked to make sure I had my knife, just in case of course!  When I went to the first wolf pen they were nowhere to be found.  I fed them and gave them water and was done.  That was easy, only 4 more to go!  Turns out, none of the wolves were interested in me!  It was a big change from the zoo where they followed my every move.  These wolves had such little human interaction that they were still too scared to check me out.  Five months later they were just starting to feel comfortable enough to come within 10 feet of me.  Even then, they would go running at my slightest move!  I know that they are still wild animals even though they were captive-born, and that I should always be cautious of them, but I am no longer scared.  I don’t think they would ever work up the nerve to get close to me. 

Here’s one female red wolf who was scared with me just being in the pen to take her picture.

Needless to say, I think the wolves are more scared of us humans.  Even if we wanted to get close, they wouldn’t let us! -- Alayna 

Friday, July 6, 2012

2012 Pup Season... What a success!

Another breeding season has come and gone in red wolf country. The final tally for wild-born red wolf pups was 40 in nine litters. An additional 41 pups from nine litters were born in Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP) facilities across the country. All in all it was a pretty good year of pup production for the Red Wolf Recovery Program!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Our new den...

The long-awaited opening of the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitor Center will be this Friday, June 29, 2012. The Visitor Center is located on US64 on the north end of Roanoke Island (north of Manteo) across from the Fort Raleigh Historic Site, The Lost Colony, and the Elizabethan Gardens. The Visitor Center will be open to the public from 9 am until 4 pm daily.

The Visitor Center's gallery features a wide variety of educational and entertaining exhibits designed, fabricated, and recently installed by Wilderness Graphics, Inc. Exhibits include a Cessna airplane where visitors may "fly-over" the 11 refuges represented at the Center, a multi-sensory theater, and realistic dioramas, including a very unique red wolf exhibit. The Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society hosts "Wild Things", a Book/Gift Shop where visitors may purchase refuge items and a wide assortment of books and other educational merchandise. Entry is FREE. A Grand Opening Celebration will be planned for the fall.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Management Techniques: Processing Pups

When a litter of red wolf pups is discovered by the Red Wolf Recovery Program, our primary concern is for the pups' safety. The pups are handled quickly and carefully, with as little disturbance to the den site as possible. We record the number of pups in the litter and the sex of each pup. A small sample of blood is drawn from each pup to determine or verify its pedigree, that is, who its parents are.

[Drawing blood from a red wolf pup. Photo Credit: W. Waddell/USFWS]

We also insert a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag, or microchip in each pup for identification later in life. The PIT tag is inserted just under the skin between the shoulder blades. This is the same type of transponder chip commonly used in the family dog and cat for identification. When the wolf pup has grown and we capture it to fit it with a radio-collar, a simple scan of the PIT tag will let us know exactly who the animal is. This prevents us from having to temporarily hold the animal in captivity while we await the results of a blood test to determine its identity.

[Inserting a PIT tag into a red wolf pup. Photo Credit: W. Waddell/USFWS]

When all the pups have been processed and their information recorded, we carefully return them to the den where their mother will return to care for them soon after our departure. After this process is completed, additional notes may be recorded pertaining to den characteristics, surrounding habitat, or any other interesting or distinquishing features present.

[Scanning a PIT tag to ensure it works. Photo Credit: D. Rabon/USFWS]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

To honor the men and women that have served our country, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Red Wolf Recovery Program are hosting a very special Memorial Day howling on Saturday, May 26, 2012. The free event starts at 7:00 pm at the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot. No registration is required, but space is limited. Visit us on Facebook for more information.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Celebrate America's Wildlife Legacy

On 18 May 2012 the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will observe and celebrate Endangered Species Day in order to recognize the national effort to protect and recover our nation's endangered species.

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!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Friday, May 4, 2012

2012: A Den Odyssey

I watch as Chris crawls under a fallen pine that has been down long enough for the bark to begin to fall freely from its dry yellow trunk. He is out of sight now, and still. The wolf’s signal fluctuated and got weaker just before Chris crawled under the log, but I did not hear her move off. I begin to move forward when he calls quietly, “I found it.” I move on up not worried about the noise at this point. As I crawl under the dead pine log I see the bare dirt of a day bed where she lay just prior to moving off. She was less than 15 feet from Chris when she spooked. The day bed has tufts of belly fur in and around it. The wolves begin to shed their belly fur just prior to giving birth to ease the pup’s access to the teats. Chris is another 15 feet beyond the daybed sitting at the entrance to a dug den. Black brown peat soil forms a slight mound at the entrance, naturally forming a high spot that prevents water draining into the den. I wonder if the mound and its function are intentional, a product of natural selection.

[The den. Photo credit: C. Lucash/USFWS]

I move forward and get the gear ready. Chris sees two pups and then scoots down the entrance head first. It turns out to be five pups, three males and two females. We carefully get a few drops of blood and implant a transponder in each pup. Chris and I have done this routine so often we don’t even need to speak to know what the other needs. He holds the pup while I draw blood and implant the transponder. He opens the cryovial while I pipette the blood from the needle. I drop in the pipette and transfer the blood while he holds pressure on the pup’s leg to stop the bleeding. I hold the cryovial while he screws on the cap. Everything goes smoothly; the pups are quiet for the most part. Mom must have fed them shortly before we arrived. They appear to be 5-7 days old, nice and plump. We place them in the fanny pouch to make it easy for Chris to transfer them back into the den. In go the pups, and Chris right behind them. Chris hands the bag back out and I grab his ankle to help him out. We gather gear and get location information. Getting out is quicker, but not always easier, than getting in. We quickly and somewhat quietly head back to the trucks. Mom will return shortly to check on the pups. She was waiting the whole time just a short distance away.

[The pups. Photo credit: F. Mauney/USFWS]

Back at the trucks Chris and I pick ticks and strip off our protective gear. Chris gets the blood, transponder information, and den coordinates together for Art. We load up in our trucks and head our separate ways. The first den of the year is done, but the year’s den work has just begun. -- Ford

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Intern's Perspective

The following blog is a personal reflection of Red Wolf Recovery Program intern, Ford Willis. Ford recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He conducted his internship from September 7, 2011 to November 21, 2011 while studying at UNC's Albemarle Ecological Field Site (AEFS).

Before my semester started in Manteo, I met with faculty members from the AEFS to discuss my interests in environmental issues on the coast. I told them that I am an avid animal lover (based on my father owning a pet store as I grew up), and that I was extremely interested in working with animal conservation/protection of any kind. It was a perfect fit when they decided to place me with the Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program. To be completely honest, I did not even know the recovery program existed and knew little to nothing about red wolves in general. However, I was excited about the opportunity to work with an endangered species and help out in any way I can. I was pleasantly surprised when my internship mentor, David Rabon, presented me with the task of working to create a Red Wolf Recovery Business Plan.

The founding idea behind the plan was to create something that modeled current operations of the Red Wolf Recovery Program so that a specific and concise plan might be used to create recovery sites in other areas of North Carolina or across the southeastern United States. In the past, red wolf populations extended much further west than they do now so the prospect of a recovery program being established in another state is promising. I must admit I was intimidated and a little overwhelmed when I first began understanding the project I would be working on. As mentioned earlier, I knew almost nothing about red wolves and, if possible, knew even less about how to construct a business plan. Needless to say, the beginning stages were slow going as I researched the many facets of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and traditional business plans. My first objective was to adapt a traditional business plan to fit the operations of a recovery program by identifying the aspects that were the same between both plans and those that were specific to a recovery site. I found this both interesting and challenging as my research helped me to gain a wealth of knowledge in business and conservation. It was a true emersion experience. I was thrown into a completely unfamiliar world but came out with a greater understanding of the recovery program as a whole and a strong comprehension of how beneficial a business plan can be for the recovery program. Once completed, this plan has the potential to expand red wolf populations, putting the FWS ever closer to achieving the ultimate goal of restoring red wolves to healthy numbers.

Outside of my work with the business plan, I was given the exciting opportunity to accompany some of the biologists in the field. This entailed setting traps and tracking specific wolf populations and gave me a much deeper understanding of how the program works. I was even given the chance to observe and participate when the veterinarian came to do work ups on the captive wolves. Working in the office and in the field are drastically different, yet equally important to the success of the recovery program. This duel experience was vital to my overall understanding of program operations and the multitude of aspects that will need to be included in the business plan. Furthermore, it led me to realize that while this business plan will be extremely useful to a future propagation site, there is a certain aspect of “local knowledge” involved with the current program. The members of the program understand things that cannot be taught or translated into a business plan. It must be learned through experience. This is not to take away from the business plan, but simply to point out that any future site will surely require that same understanding of “local knowledge” in order to function successfully. While the business plan is still very much in its infancy, I am proud of my contributions and excited to someday see a finished product. It would be truly inspiring to one day see a recovery site established in another state based on the plan I was given the opportunity to work on.

Overall, this internship was an extremely positive and educational experience for me. I have had multiple internships in the past where I have spent most of my time trying to look busy rather than actually accomplishing anything. This is not because I was lazy but because I was never given enough work to do. I was never challenged in the way I was with this internship. For the first time, I feel I have a solid understanding of at least one possible career path in the environmental field. My environmental studies degree is broad and wide ranging, which gives me the chance to explore multiple fields when deciding the direction I want to take my career. I was skeptical about working for the government but found it to be an enjoyable experience with a functioning work environment filled with welcoming individuals. Everyone was willing to do their part in helping me get the most out of my internship as possible. I want to thank everyone for helping make this the most positive internship experience I have had. I realize how busy you all are and appreciate the time you took out of your day. I hope that I can return over the coming years to see the program thriving and expanding in new ways. I may have come in knowing nothing about red wolves, but I can guarantee this has been an experience I will never forget.
[Photo: Ford Willis]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Earth Day 2012

To honor our planet and celebrate Earth Day 2012, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Red Wolf Recovery Program are hosting a very special Earth Day howling on Saturday, April 21st. The free event starts at 7:00 pm at the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot. No registration is required, but space is limited. Visit us on Facebook for more information.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gunshot Mortality of Red Wolves

The following blog entry about gunshot mortality of red wolves is excerpted from a chapter in the forthcoming book entitled "The Secret World of Red Wolves: A True Story of North America's other Wolf," by T. DeLene Beeland (University of North Carolina Press, coming early 2013), and is reproduced here with the permission of the author. CAUTION: Images included in this blog may be disturbing to some readers.

Since 2004, an average of 6.5 red wolves die each year from gunshot wounds. Studying years past, it is easy to see an emerging trend: between 1987 and 2003, twenty-eight red wolves were shot. But between 2004 and 2010, the number of gunshot red wolves rose to forty-five confirmed cases. By the end of 2011, the total number of gunshot wolves have increased to fifty-two. In other words, 65 percent of the known gunshot red wolves occurred in the most recent eight years of the twenty-five-year-long program. Six were shot in 2004; five were shot in 2005; four were shot in 2006; nine were shot in 2007; six were shot in 2008 (plus two confirmed poisonings); seven were shot in 2009; eight were shot in 2010; and another seven were shot in 2011. The killings are akin to death by a thousand slices to the population as a whole.

[Number of red wolves killed by gunshot, 1987-2011]

Unfortunately, the breeders are hit disproportionately according to the red wolf team. Since 2004, the biologists calculate that breeding individuals compose 73 percent of the wolves shot illegally. Losing a breeder busts up packs which in turn leads to single wolves becoming vulnerable to intraspecific aggression. The loss of a breeder can also equate to pups or pre-dispersing age juveniles losing parental protection. Most worrisome to the red wolf field team, losing a breeder puts that pack's territory at risk: they had too often observed fertile coyotes move into territories shortly after the disruption of a breeding pair.

[Red Wolf on left; Coyote on right. Photo credit: red wolf, Crawford/USFWS; coyote, USFWS]

A study published in 2011 in PLoS-ONE by Dennis Murray and Amanda Sparkman from Trent University, and Lisette Waits from the University of Idaho, was the first to address the issue of how anthropogenic killings affect the red wolf population. The researchers tested two ecological theories: one proposed that human-caused killings have an “additive” effect which reduces a population’s overall survival rates, while the second proposed that human-caused killings trigger a “compensatory” effect which makes up for unnatural losses, possibly by reducing the natural mortality rate which then balances the overall survival rate.

The researchers divided the red wolf population growth into two major time periods, from 1990-1998 and 1999 to 2006, and classified the first timeframe as having a low population density (when the reintroduced population was still growing) and the second as having a high population density (when the recovery area began to approach being full). They found that at low population densities, the red wolf population experienced a strong additive effect from human-caused killings. But at higher densities, they found evidence for both additive and compensatory effects. They hypothesized that as stable red wolf packs dissolved due to human-caused killings, it freed the surplus breeding-age red wolves to either begin breeding with the surviving mate, or to take over the territory of a dissolved pack and form an entirely new breeding pair...

[Red Wolf. Photo credit: Nordsven/USFWS]

...A second study with insight to how anthropogenic killings affects red wolves took the form of a dissertation under the tutelage of Lisette Waits, a wildlife geneticist at the University of Idaho. (Waits is also the person responsible for testing the blood samples of the red wolves for the genetic markers that qualify them as true red wolves.) Waits and her then-student, Justin Bohling, examined characteristics of individual red wolves that were involved in hybridization events verified to have occurred. They discovered that the majority of the red wolves that crossed with coyotes did so under similar circumstances.

“A high proportion of these hybridization events were occurring after the disruption of a stable breeding pair,” Waits said. “Particularly, it’s been a problem associated with gunshot mortality during the hunting season, and the hunting season precedes the breeding season.”

[Red Wolf. Photo credit: Nordsven/USFWS]

Waits and Bohling pored over breeding records and the individual life histories of red wolves known to have been involved in hybridization events between 2001 and 2009. They studied twenty-one hybrid litters and ninety-one red wolf litters and examined them for correlations with age and breeding experience, if the animal had a mixed red wolf/coyote ancestry, birthing location within the red wolf recovery area, and whether pack disruption was a factor leading to future interspecies crosses. They found that the hybrid litters clustered toward the western side of the Albemarle peninsula, and that the average age of female breeders who birthed hybrid litters was slightly less, at 4.2 years old, than the average age of female breeders who birthed red wolf litters at about 5.4 years old. But perhaps the most interesting result was that thirteen of the twenty-one [62%] hybrid litters were produced after a stable breeding pair of red wolves were broken apart. Seven of these dissolutions [54%] occurred because a breeder had been shot and killed, while two more involved the death of a breeder from poison or trap injuries—in all, nine of the thirteen [69%] broken pairs were attributed to human actions.

[Percent mortality of red wolves, 1999-2011]

In the eyes of the red wolf field team, Murray's study described the past but they felt the spike in gunshot mortality they had observed since 2004 significantly altered the possibility that the compensatory effects would continue to balance the additive effects. They also countered that the study failed to capture the level of management effort that the team had to invest in fostering new red wolf pairs each time a pair dissolved; not to mention their efforts to trap, sterilize and monitor new coyotes that moved into a former pack's territory. They had increased their management effort in step with the uptick in illegal killings since 2004 and they felt that Murray's conclusions, that the additive and compensatory effects would continue to balance each other out at high population densities, omitted how an increased rate of killings stretched their management workload to the point of bursting. They believed Waits and Bohling's study accurately described the scenarios they had witnessed time and time again when a pack dissolved largely due to human-caused reasons and hybridization often followed.

The red wolf recovery program hinges upon successful field work, and in order to grow the population the biologists believe their breeders need to maintain stable territories and stable packs that regularly produce puppies each spring. But the illegal killings, whether accidental or not, are possibly curtailing the program’s success including the field staff’s ability to control hybridization issues by using coyote sterilization as a management tool.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the suspected illegal take of several red wolves found dead in the Red Wolf Recovery Area (Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington, and Beaufort Counties, NC). Contributions from various organizations and individuals have resulted in a reward of up to $15,000 for information directly leading to an arrest, a criminal conviction, a civil penalty assessment, or forfeiture of property on the subject or subjects responsible for the suspected unlawful take of these red wolves. The red wolf is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The maximum criminal penalties for the unlawful taking of a red wolf are one year imprisonment and $100,000 fine per individual. Anyone with information on the deaths of red wolves is urged to contact Special Agent Sandra Allred at (919) 856-4786 or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at (252) 216-8225.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Return of the Blog

It’s been nearly nine months since our last post. Have you missed us? Maybe you've wondered why we've been quiet on our blog. Well, it hasn't been for a lack of stuff to blog about. So much has happened in the Red Wolf Recovery Program in the last nine months -- we have experienced fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and even plague... but thankfully not the bubonic kind.

[Photo credit: Donnie Harris/USFWS]

It all started in early May of last year with a lightning strike in the Pain’s Bay region of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The Pain’s Bay Fire, as it was called, spread over more than 45,000 acres, and had all of us revising our contingency plans with each new acre burned. Some of our biologists even donned their firefighting PPE (personal protective equipment) to fight the blaze.

[Photo credit: NASA NOAA GOES Project]

The fire burned for nearly four months. In fact, the fire wasn’t fully extinguished until Hurricane Irene made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina on the morning of August 27. Hurricane Irene had weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of 85 mph (140 km/h), just before it made landfall, so the damage from wind was minimal. But the hurricane tracked over eastern North Carolina and the Red Wolf Recovery Area for about ten hours before re-emerging into the Atlantic near the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. And ten hours of rain left substantial portions of the area severely flooded.

[Photo credit: John Bazemore/AP]

Of course, all the rain from Hurricane Irene and the subsequent flooding made for perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. And when the mosquitoes hatched, they hatched in force! A plague of mosquitoes had local officials mounting multiple aerial assaults on the blood-sucking pests.

[Shown "nearly" actual size -- Photo credit: Tim McGill/CLTV]

But that’s not all. Less than a week before Hurricane Irene hit, on August 23rd to be exact, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook the Red Wolf Recovery Area. Although the epicenter of the quake was near Richmond, Virginia, the effects were felt throughout the eastern U.S. And several aftershocks, ranging up to 4.5 in magnitude, occurred after the main tremor. The 5.8 earthquake was the largest to have occurred in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains since the earthquake of 1897 in western Virginia.

[Photo credit: USGS]

And as if a fire, a hurricane, a flood, an earthquake, and swarming mosquitoes weren’t enough, the Red Wolf Recovery Program lost several breeding wolves and managed coyotes to gunshot during the fall hunting season (we’ll have more on that in the near future, so stay tuned). But we’ve hit the ground running in 2012. And now whelping season -- when red wolf pups are born -- is just around the corner. So, be on the lookout for more blogs. I promise it won’t be nine months before you can enjoy our next rambling.