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All About Wolves: Rescuing the Red Wolf

The Red Wolf Recovery Program

Wolf in Crate Picture By 1983 the captive red wolf population had increased to 63 animals. But if the red wolf was going to be saved from extinction there would have to be at least 500 red wolves in captivity and in the wild. In order to reach this goal, zoos from all over the country were asked to participate in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan managed by the American Zoo Association. Dozens of zoos responded by building red wolf pens and joining the effort to save the red wolf. Within a few years the captive red wolf population doubled. There were now "surplus" red wolves that could be released into the wild.

In November 1986 four pairs of red wolves were flown from captive facilities to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina to begin their acclimation period prior to release. These first animals were reintroduced to the wild in September 1987.

As of June 30, 1996, the total red wolf population was thought to be between 242 and 296 animals. Fifty to 104 animals were thought to be living in wild reintroduction sites, 11 wolves on islands, and 181 wolves in captivity. The difference in numbers for the wild population is the result of two factors: 1) Biologists have lost radio contact with 20 wolves during the course of the program and they don't know if the wolves are still alive. 2) Some wolves have been seen, but not captured — this includes pups from current and past breeding seasons.

Biologist With Wolf Picture Since the first release at the Alligator River in 1987, 69 captive-born red wolves have been reintroduced and 95 pups have been born in the wild. Eighty-five percent of the current free-ranging red wolf population at the Alligator River were born in the wild.

In 1991 a second mainland reintroduction site was established in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. Since that time 39 captive red wolves have been released and 24 pups have been born in the wild in six litters.

A larger version of this picture with a complete caption is available.

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