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All About Wolves: Rescuing the Red Wolf

From Gray Wolves to Red Wolves

We learned a lot about releasing gray wolves into the wild in the Gray Wolf portion of this Wild Animal Watch project. Now it's time to move east of Yellowstone National Park and go to the home of the red wolf in North Carolina and Tennessee.

The gray wolves at Yellowstone were caught in the wild in Canada and flown to the Park and released. Technically this wasn't actually a reintroduction. When we capture wild animals and release them in a new area, this is called a "translocation" (trans-low-CAY-shun).

The red wolves released at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina, in 1987 were the first wolves to be actually "reintroduced" to the wild successfully. The first group of red wolves to be released were born in captivity. Prior to their release they had never set foot outside their pens and had never killed a prey animal. Despite their lack of wild experience, the first red wolves did quite well. They learned to hunt and kill prey, how to find their way in the woods, and perhaps most importantly, how to stay away from people.

Why release wolves into the wild?

  • Without a top predator, sick animals can linger and spread the disease they are carrying to other animals.
  • Wolves and other predators keep the number of prey animals to a manageable level. For instance, if there are too many deer or elk in a small area they might overbrowse the area and destroy the habitat. When a habitat is destroyed, this hurts all of the animals living in it.
As a top predator the wolf's job is to weed out sick and injured animals, and to keep the animal population under control. Wolves were once found in almost every kind of habitat in the United States. When we killed the wolves, some prey populations became too big and this damaged the habitat. Releasing wolves back into the wild helps to restore a "natural" balance to the ecosystem.

Another reason for releasing wolves into the wild is to protect habitat. In the United States, outside of national parks and refuges, we don't have specific laws protecting habitat. But we do have a law called The Endangered Species Act. This powerful law helps protect animals and plants that are threatened with extinction. When we release a wolf into the wild, the endangered species laws protecting the wolf help to protect the habitat the wolf is living in.

Yet another good reason for reintroducing wolves is economic. It has been proven that wild wolves bring in millions of dollars from tourists traveling to parks, refuges, and wilderness areas that have wolves. These "tourist dollars" provide jobs for people living in cities and towns near the wild places where wolves live.

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