Setback in trying to save the world’s vile dogs | National Geographic

In early 2022, ten captive red wolves were released into the wild in reserves in eastern North Carolina. The move was the result of a court ruling ordering the US Fish and Wildlife Service to speed up its long-running program to save endangered species. The wolves were released after months of careful planning and consultation among zoos, game reserves and biologists investigating the recovery of red wolf populations in the United States.

A total of three pairs of parents and a group of five related red wolves have been released into the Alligator River Reserve and Pocosin Lakes National Park. Prior to their release, the wolves had spent weeks in isolated and fenced open enclosures in the same area of ​​North Carolina. One parent pair consisted of a wild wolf and a captive-bred wolf, who were brought together in the hope that they would mate. With the release of this group of animals, the number of red wolves identified in the area doubled from about ten to about twenty.

Their first temporary explorations in the wild were captured using camera traps and anyone can follow them online. Environmental groups have hailed wolf rehabilitation as a “new start” for the much-criticized red wolf recovery program, which has stalled after decades of steady growth in recent years.

When an army of six cubs was spotted at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (the first red wolves bred in the wild in three years) shortly after the wolves were released, everyone involved was hopeful. The cubs seemed to be thriving and soon were seen roaming and playing in the forests and fields of the reserve. They can also be heard crying with their parents.

However, it is not easy to save a nearly extinct species, as the experts involved in the program have found. The battle to bring the American “national wolf” back into the area where these predators once lived in the wild has seen many ups and downs over the past decade, and this year the program has experienced another setback: out of ten. The wolves were released into the wild in 2022, and six have since died and three more have returned to shelters.

According to Regina Musotti, one of the leaders of the red wolf rehabilitation program at the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), last year’s development shows “conservation can be very challenging.”

hard recovery

September 13 marked the 35th anniversary of the release of the first red wolves into the wild, when eight captive-bred animals were released in North Carolina. This was the first experiment to attempt to reintroduce a native predatory species that was officially considered extinct to its original range. After a rough start, field biologists began to learn more and more about the behavior of wild red wolves and developed innovative methods to aid population recovery. The new population grew steadily and by 2012 they had reached over a hundred red wolves. Wolves were divided into different groups and the population remained stable for several years after that.

But as the werewolf advanced into the area, more and more predators were released, including the many young red wolves that roam the area during hunting season and are very similar to wolves in size and coat colour. When the wolves were protected by an additional hunting ban, there was resistance from the local population and more wolves were released, after which some successful recovery strategies were also reversed. All this led to a sharp decrease in the numbers of new red wolves. (Read more: How to save the red wolf from extinction for the second time?)

Three out of every 10 red wolves released into the wild have been found this year – the leading cause of death for predators. These incidents are currently under investigation by law enforcement, but hunters have not been prosecuted for illegally shooting a red wolf in 20 years, despite hundreds of cases. (The red wolf is on a federal protection list, which means that illegally shooting the animal can result in heavy fines.) The reasons for not enforcing the law are complex, much to the chagrin of some conservationists, who believe hunters should be taken. more seriously to protect the species.

It is believed that at least two of the previously released wolves were run over, while the cause of death for another wolf is unknown. Three other red wolves were rescued after behaving in ways that “cast doubt on their ability to survive in the wild”, including “excessive familiarity with humans and the inhabited environment…), despite repeated attempts to frighten the animals. .”

It is not known where the tenth wolf went. His collar with the GPS transmitter no longer works and he fears that the animal is also dead.

creepy progress

“While the release of captive red wolves into the wild in recent years has not yielded the level of success we had hoped for, positive steps have been taken to increase wild animal populations through management measures,” wrote Joe Madison, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service. who leads North Carolina’s Red Wolf Management Program, said in an emailed statement. “These actions act as building blocks as we process the lessons learned and strive to increase the success rate and increase the number of stepfathers within the red wolf population.”

Musotti agrees with these measures. She said the red wolf recovery program was “the first in history to release a large predator from an area where it has been eradicated.” Although the plan was difficult at first, the wolves eventually did what they had to do: they kept away from humans, hunted and had cubs and raised them in family groups. The population grew. (Also read: The fact that these rare wolves are a unique species is important.)

The fact that the population has thrived despite many problems in the recent past provides hope for the future. This is significant now that the rehabilitation program is already about to make a fresh start: Since there are very few red wolves in the wild, captive wolves must be released back into the wild to restore the population.

Supporters of the program describe the procedure as a good opportunity to press the “Reset” button and correct past mistakes. Aside from the complicating reasons for the sharp decline in the red wolves currently living in the area – such as the halting of successful projects to help raise cubs and sterilize wolves – critics of the program argue that the small number of wolves currently shows that population recovery will not work with the current approach.

Perhaps encouraged by the judge’s latest ruling and its renewed partnership with North Carolina and with NGOs, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to improve education in the red wolf’s breeding area since the end of the coronavirus pandemic. The Agency is determined to reconnect with the local community.

Its initiatives include the “Prey for the Pack” program, which helps people improve habitats for animals. According to FWS, such improvements “benefit landowners and wildlife.” In addition, a “hotline for wolves” was created and information days were organized. In areas where the red wolf is active, mobile road signs will be placed asking motorists to slow down. The signs are also intended to raise public awareness of the presence of red wolves, as some residents of the area were unaware of the animals living there.

A new team for the Red Wolf Recovery Program was formed in 2021, consisting of scientists, government officials, FWS officials, area landowners, representatives of local indigenous tribes, zoos, shelters, and NGOs. We hope that the input of stakeholders from different backgrounds will lead to better consultations and more ideas about how people and red wolves live together in one area.

Also on the team is Wes Seegars, an experienced North Carolina wildlife manager who owns a ranch and hunting grounds in the red wolf’s recovery area. He sees the increasing presence of wolves in the area as the biggest obstacle to red wolf rehabilitation.

If you just want to see purebred red wolves roaming the landscape, it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at them. I think that’s impossible now,” he says, given the thousands of wolves in the area and the fact that red wolves mate with coyotes if you don’t find enough of them to produce offspring.

Ahead of the February 2023 deadline, when a first review of the Red Wolf Recovery Plan was expected since 1990, the Red Wolf Recovery Program had already published a draft plan for public participation. Two points have received the most attention: finding additional rehabilitation areas within the original red wolf range to increase the current distribution of the species, and maintaining the animal’s genetic diversity over the long term, using 240 captive red wolves. A large amount of red wolf DNA has been found in Texas wild wolves, which can be used to restore the genetic diversity of the red wolf population.

The story of the red wolf – the animal’s official extinction and spectacular return, its subsequent decline and the ongoing struggle to save the species from extinction – shows not only the complexity of the relationship between humans and large predators, but also how difficult it is to save. . In the Anthropocene, the current “human age” in which species are widely extinct, we can hope that the struggles surrounding the red wolf will one day be included in the history books as a success story, rather than a success story. Record countless species that have vanished Earth.

This article was originally published in English at NationalGeographic.com

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