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