Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Earth Day is April 22nd, and this year the focus of the celebration is on the Faces of Climate Change. While climate change may be abstract for a lot of people, we are observing effects of climate change in coastal North Carolina in the red wolf recovery area.  The coastal plain habitats in the northeastern North Carolina reintroduction site are slowly sinking while sea level is rising. T. Delene Beland recently wrote an article on how climate change may impact red wolf recovery.  Some experts consider Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge ground zero for sea level rise. Forests are being converting to salt meadows and marshes. While pond pines are suffering from salt intrusion and dying back, marsh grasses and in some cases, invasive species like Phragmites, are moving into these newly formed marshes.  This has immediate impacts for this area, as the eastern portion of the peninsula has an average elevation of a few feet above sea level. You can use the interactivegraphic on this site to visualize what a predicted 1-meter rise or more would look like on the peninsula.

How would these changes affect red wolves? Sea level rise means less available habitat as the peninsula contracts—up to a third of the current recovery area would be affected over the next century.  While red wolves are generalists and can eat a variety of prey, sea level rise also presents the dilemma of disappearing habitat and prey.

How has climate change impacted you? What are you doing to be part of the solution?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Red Wolf Summer Reading List

Over the next two months, there are some exciting new book and article releases on red wolf conservation and recovery.  We wanted to let you know about these upcoming resources now, so you can put them on your summer reading list.  We’ll post a reminder once things go to press as well!

We are very excited about the release of the new book, The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf by T. DeLene Beeland.  DeLene is a science and nature writer who resides in Asheville, North Carolina.  Her new book is highly anticipated by the wolf conservationist community, as there currently no comprehensive resource on red wolves for adult readers.  In her book, she describes the natural history of this often misunderstood predator, discusses the natural history of the species and the evolution of red wolf recovery efforts. Her narrative is very objective, as she shares the viewpoints of scientists, advocates, local landowners, and even our own program staff here at the Red Wolf Recovery Program. The book, published by University of North Carolina Press, is scheduled to be released in early June, but is also currently available for pre-order through Amazon.  You can read an excerpt of it on the author’s website here.

DeLene also started a new group, Friends of the Red Wolf, to further support the conservation and recovery of wild red wolves. The group directly collaborates directly with the Red Wolf Recovery Program to help them achieve recovery goals for the red wolf through scientific research and adaptive management practices. Friends of the Red Wolf is part of The WILD Foundation, under which it has 501(c)3 status.  This non-profit organization and status allows donors to deduct their charitable contributions—so your donations will directly contribute to red wolf conservation.  These contributions will help purchase field supplies including VHF telemetry collars and help pay for veterinary services.  Check out their blog or Facebook page for more information!

Another book we’re really looking forward to is the graphic novel, Return of the Red Wolf. This educational project is a fantastic collaboration between the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Education Advisor, Craig Standridge, and Washington artist, Beth Graham.  The novel is narrated by Graham, a red wolf at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, and aims to tell students about red wolf natural history, the recovery process, and how everyone can get involved in red wolf conservation.  While the novel is targeted towards 7th graders, we have no doubt all ages will enjoy this read and appreciate the colorful, incredible artwork. 

This innovate education project was funded by the Point Defiance Zoological Society and the Tacoma Artists Initiative Program and will be published by Point Defiance Zoological Society and made available for order on  All sales collected will go towards red wolf conservation efforts at two organizations: the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Committee Fund (money that will be used to find grants that will benefit red wolves), and the Friends of the Red Wolf, ensuring that the novel sales will benefit both the wild and zoo-based red wolf populations.

Lastly, the summer 2013 issue of International Wolf magazine will be published for release soon!  We’re really looking forward to this issue as it will feature an interview of our Red Wolf Recovery Program Coordinator, David, by Neil Hutt.  Neil is a writer and educator, as well as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Red Wolf Coalition, a partner and frequent collaborator.  The article about red wolf recovery is accompanied by photos by our Assistant Coordinator, Becky.  In this issue, Neil also reviews Delene’s book, The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf.  Lots of good red wolf readings!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Meeting red wolf recovery criteria: Cryogenic preservation of red wolf sperm

Did you know that the current red wolf recovery plan has four recovery objectives? We often focus on establishing populations and avoiding extinction, but another recovery objective is to maintain the red wolf into perpetuity through embryo banking and cryogenic preservation of sperm. This work is coordinated through by the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The majority of this research occurs at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium under the guidance of the Red Wolf SSP Reproductive Advisor and SSP Coordinator.

Red wolf sperm under the microscope. Photo credit: Toronto Zoo.

Using technologies to support red wolf conservation and population sustainability relies on the help and expertise of many individuals and organizations. One such technology that the Red Wolf SSP began using in 1990 is the freezing of sperm collected from red wolves managed in the captive population. Initially developed within the livestock industry, the process involved in semen collection and freezing has been refined and improved over the years and is now used for a variety of species including those that may be threatened or endangered. In fact, many dog owners will “bank” samples to preserve, for example, sperm from valuable show or hunting dogs. These samples can potentially be used for artificial insemination to produce offspring once an animal is beyond its breeding age or has passed away. The International Canine Semen Bank (ICSB), located in Oregon, stores samples for the Red Wolf SSP and has produced dog litters from frozen semen that had been stored for 38 years prior to thawing and insemination.

Collected samples are analyzed under the microscope to exam sperm motility, concentration, and the percentage of normal shaped sperm. If these samples are sufficiently vigorous, the process for freezing begins. This basically involves combining the samples with an extender or cyroprotectant to safeguard the cells against damage during freezing followed by a slow cooling phase for 30 minutes. The samples are then carefully pipetted on to a block of dry ice with small indentations to form pellets and left to sit for 3 minutes. Finally, the pellets are plunged into liquid nitrogen, placed in small vials, and sent to ICSB for storage in liquid nitrogen tanks. 

Samples being "pelleted" onto dry ice.
Photo credit: Jesse Michener/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. 

Karen Goodrowe-Beck, Red Wolf SSP Reproductive Advisor, 
processing samples for examination.
Photo credit: Jesse Michener/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
While this is kind of approach is not meant to replace red wolves breeding naturally, it is a valuable tool that we can use to manage the red wolf population into the future.