I loved wolves when I was a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on about wolves, though I was biased. While I knew of the existence of Canis rufus, the red wolf, I only paid attention the C. lupus, the gray wolf.
So I occasionally read things about red wolves, though I paid very little attention to them. They interested me about the same as anything else that wasn’t a gray wolf.
Then I grew up and went to college. While I was there, I heard a seminar done by a guy who had been working with red wolves over in North Carolina. I learned that red wolves were almost extinct and were endangered. I still didn’t pay much attention, but I found myself more curious about this other wolf.
After college I landed the first real animal job of my career. While I worked with a lot of reptiles and fish, my boss had come from a place in North Carolina which had been in contact with the red wolf program, and which held several red wolves in captivity. After reading a magazine article about the red wolf that a volunteer had left in the break room, I found myself more curious about the situation, and coerced my boss into a discussion on the wolves.
He told me a few things, like yes, red wolves are endangered, and that there had been some work to bring them back. Then he loaned me a book to read, which would better answer all my questions.
So, I started reading.
I will warn you now, that this book review will be both a summary of what I have learned, as well as a review on the actual book. This is a subject that I suspect many know little on (like myself before I started asking the right questions) and after reading this book and talking to some folks myself, it has become quite clear that this project depends on the public support. In order to gain support, people have to know about what is really going on with the red wolf, and why it is important to save such an animal. While yes, you could get all that from this book, I realize many of you won’t run out and buy it. So, I’ll summarize what I’ve learned, and present it to you readers in a reasonable fashion and let you make your decisions from there.
The red wolf, Canis rufus, was declared to be extinct in the wild by 1980. What wolves could be found were caught and placed among various zoos for captive breeding. There were only 17 red wolves in captivity at this point.
The battle had already begun in determining the difference between red wolves, red wolf hybrids and coyotes. To this day there are still many people who believe the red wolf is nothing but a hybrid, or a sub-species of the coyote.
Using what methods they had, biologists determined which of the 17 remaining individuals were likely pure red wolves, and those were allowed to breed. Today the entire red wolf population can trace its history back to 14 of those original 17 wolves.
There are currently about 100 red wolves that have been reintroduced into the wild, and 200 which still reside in captivity. The ones that have been reintroduced have been placed back into the wilds of North Carolina, part of their historic range. They face ongoing struggles, not only from low population numbers, but from hybridizing with coyotes, something the red wolves tend to do when their family groups are disrupted. Coyotes outnumber the red wolves by hundreds, and the hybridization is a large threat to the red wolf species-meaning that coyotes could easily breed out their larger cousins.
Red wolves also face several challenges from the local human population. Unlike out west, the residents do not seem afraid of the red wolves. They don’t seem to see the wolves as vicious beasts out to eat all their cattle and children. Most of the agriculture done in North Carolina is also produce, so there is little concern about threat to livestock.
Unlike out west though, many residents of the Albemarle Peninsula (where the wolves have been reintroduced into the wild) don’t seem to hate the wolves per se. Instead they hate the government behind it.
The Red Wolf Recovery program is run by a team working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Many residents see the government presence in their community as a sign that the government is interfering with their lives, or trying to take over.
The red wold population also suffers blows from hunting, where hunters out looking to lower the number of nuisance coyotes, mistake the wolf for their smaller cousins. Climate change has also caused many issues for the wolves, including hurricanes, draughts, and erosion of land and banks.
The red wolf has an uphill battle on its long road to recovery. This however, is helped as more people find out about the program. The more people who support the project, the more likely it is to keep going. Right now the program is also at risk of being discontinued, and this beautiful animal could be declared extinct, or worse, a sub-species not worth of protection from the Endangered Species Act.
I learned all of this from the book and more! As for the review part (which I guess I should include in here somewhere) the book is well written. My only complaint is that it felt stretched, as if the author was forced to make all of her information his 200-300 pages. This was confirmed when I learned that she initially wanted to write something shorter, but was told to make it a book instead. So I can’t fault her for that.
Overall this is a great read, and very educational. Some may complain that it takes an emotional outlook on the red wolf recovery program, but I think that is hard to avoid when talking about a species that could be gone forever.