Durham, North Carolina (April 24, 2018) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a five-year status review of the red wolf (Canis rufus) this afternoon, with the review concluding the species continues to deserve federal listing as “endangered.” The agency acknowledges there are now only around 40 red wolves left in the wild, with only three known breeding pairs remaining.
“Wildlands Network certainly agrees the red wolf is still endangered. In fact, it is one of the most endangered mammal species on the entire planet,” said Dr. Ron Sutherland, Conservation Scientist at the nonprofit group Wildlands Network. “For comparison purposes, there are around 1,600 giant pandas, 2,000 Bengal tigers, and 4,500 snow leopards left in the wild, vs. only 40 red wolves.”
The news of the status review comes just days after new red wolf pups were born at several captive breeding facilities around the country, including the Durham Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina. In previous years, such captive pups would have stood a decent chance of being released into the wild, using the innovative technique known as pup fostering. Biologists would airlift the newborn wolves and place them directly in the den of a wild red wolf mother, allowing the mother wolf to do the hard work of teaching the young captive pups how to survive. However, in 2015 the FWS stopped releasing any captive wolves into the wild, and the same year, the agency also suspended their successful efforts to prevent hybridization between wolves and coyotes.
“We’re disappointed that the five-year status review appears to take great pains to describe the North Carolina wild population of red wolves as unsustainable, without acknowledging the fact that the decision by FWS leadership to functionally abandon the program is what has led to the striking recent declines in red wolf numbers since 2012,” continued Sutherland. “They stopped releasing new wolves from captivity, they stopped managing coyotes, and they’ve sat back and watched as gunshot mortality shredded the red wolf population.”
The FWS report documents how human-caused mortality is now the greatest perceived threat to the wild population, which peaked in 2006 and was subsequently fairly stable until 2012. This graph from the accompanying Species Survival Assessment published by FWS (page 30) shows the population trend for the wild and captive populations. Note that the NENC line now should be dropped even further to a new low of 40 animals for 2018.
While the FWS appears to be pessimistic about the future of the wild red wolves in what it has designated as the “non-essential experimental population” (NEP) in eastern North Carolina, the agency does describe plans for considering other sites for additional reintroduction efforts. According to the FWS five-year review, the agency “[knows] that reintroductions will need a large federal land anchor and will include many stakeholders; for example, other federal agencies, state agencies, industry land holdings, conservation lands, and private land owners.”
“We definitely agree that additional sites for red wolf recovery need to be identified around the Southeast,” Dr. Sutherland said. “As the gray wolves in Yellowstone have demonstrated, top carnivores are essential for the health of natural ecosystems. We need red wolves and Florida panther back in the wilder parts of this region, if we want to also save our native wildflowers from overabundant deer, and our native songbirds from too many raccoons and possums. But, it is far from clear how the FWS plans to proceed with starting new reintroduction projects in other states, if they allow themselves to be bullied out of North Carolina by what amounts to ample servings of ignorance and fear.
Dr. Ron Sutherland, 919-641-0060, firstname.lastname@example.org