The red wolf is near-extinction due to habitat obliteration and for the protection of livestock. By the mid 1970’s, only 14 red wolves remained. In 1984, these wolves were extracted from the wild to launch a breeding facility as part of a species survival plan initiated by the Point Defiance Zoo, Association of Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The propagation program has successfully increased the number of red wolves to 200 in the program, with almost 100 red wolves living in the wild thanks to the assistance of additional zoos.
In 1987, four pairs of adult red wolves were released into the wild at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina by biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. A similar release took place in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1991. However, this experiment was terminated six years later due to disease, low pup survival rates, and lack of prey to sustain the red wolf population.
Unfortunately, the red wolf population in North Carolina is deemed experimental. Although the red wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the status of the red wolf population in North Carolina reverts to unprotected if considered a threat to humans or livestock. The legal status of the red wolf population in North Carolina may lead to the demise of red wolves living in the wild.
Coyotes migrated to North Carolina from Tennessee. The jaws of a 35-50 pound coyote can exert up to 300 pounds of pressure, which can easily kill livestock. Coyotes account for the largest number of predator-related livestock death according to statistician, Thomas Chard with the United States Department of Agriculture. Ranchers report that the coyotes eat the prime pieces of meat and leave the remainder of the carcass.
Ranchers set traps, snares, and hunt the coyotes to protect livestock. Regrettably, the red wolf resembles the coyote and is often killed by mistake. The Wildlife Resources Commission authorized coyote hunting in North Carolina, which is now home to approximately 100 wild red wolves. A U.S. judge has been requested by conservation groups to stop coyote hunting in North Carolina to preserve the red wolf population due to the problem of mistaken identity.
At least five red wolves were mistaken for coyotes and killed on hunts in October of 2013. The Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute are seeking to halt coyote hunting to protect the red wolves. The Wildlife Resources Commission reports that coyotes are disease carriers and a danger to humans and livestock. The commission believes that allowing the trapping and hunting of coyotes is an effective method of controlling the coyote population.
*Royalty free picture courtesy of Ealasaid on Flickr’s Creative Commons.