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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Yellow Mike Friday, November 15, 1996

Trapping started today
Reported by Michael Morse

The red wolf crew here (Art Beyer, Jennifer Gilbreath, Jonathan Windley, and myself) have started setting traps today for pups born in the Refuge. We believe we had 11 litters born in the wild this last May. We use a foot trap that has rubber padded jaws so wolves' feet are not injured. Usually the trap is set in a trail and covered with soil where the wolf may walk through it, or set in front of a food or scent bait that the wolf might think is interesting. I'll let you know how we do on the trap lines (row of traps).

After a wolf is captured, we carefully weigh and measure it, take a small sample of blood for testing, administer vaccines and fit it with a radio collar. We call this processing a wolf. It usually takes about 30 minutes to complete these tasks and then the wolf is released.

September 1996 began the ninth year of the red wolf re-establishment program in eastern North Carolina. When we started the release program, the red wolf had been declared extinct in the wild. All of the red wolves in existence lived in captivity. The last remaining red wolves had been removed from the wild and placed in captive pens because humans had almost killed them all.

Today humans have a better understanding of why wolves are important in the ecosystem, and why we don't need to fear them. As a top predator, wolves help maintain a balance in the natural system by preying on sick and injured wild animals. Red wolves in North Carolina eat a wide variety of animals, including rodents, rabbits, nutria, and white-tail deer. Red wolves live in extended family groups called packs. The alpha male and alpha female of the pack breed once a year and have a litter of pups around May. Once the pups are about six months old, they are large enough to wear a radio collar.

We monitor 40 wild free-ranging red wolves here in North Carolina using radio-telemetry collars. We usually do this twice a week by flying over the recovery area and picking up the wolves' radio-collar signals. These signals let us know where a wolf is and what other wolves are with it. Today, nearly 90% of the free-ranging red wolves in North Carolina were born in the wild.
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