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First litter of wild red wolf pups born in North Carolina since 2018

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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A litter of wild red wolf pups has been born in North Carolina for the first time since 2018.

The six pups, four females and two males, were born to a pair in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern part of the state, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The births come as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has renewed recovery efforts of this near-extinct species as part of its Red Wolf Recovery Program. The agency had largely abandoned recovery efforts of the world's rarest canine predator since 2015.

In February, agency officials announced they were committing significant resources to reinvigorate the program.

“There’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the service’s recovery efforts and the survival and reproduction of red wolves in the wild,” said Perrin de Jong, North Carolina staff attorney at the center. “It’s tremendously encouraging to see the agency trying to protect and recover wild red wolves again. My heart is filled with hope at the sight of a new generation of red wolves taking their rightful place on the landscape.”

The parents of this newborn litter were brought together as a result of the service’s renewed efforts to encourage the reproductive success of red wolves in the wild. The agency’s matchmaking efforts met with success when the adults paired, established their territory, and mated.

Since February, the service has released a total of seven captive-bred red wolves into the wild population, including a pack of two adults and three pups.

“The service’s efforts this year represent an encouraging increase in recovery activity across this species’ recovery area, and we’re beginning to see the results,” said de Jong. “Now we need the service to keep at it, so that red wolves not only have a future in eastern North Carolina, but across their historical range in the Southeast.”

Red wolves were once abundant across the Southeast, but the species is now the most endangered canid in the world. Only 20 known red wolves remain in the wild, surviving in five sparsely populated counties in eastern North Carolina.

In 2020 and 2021, seven adult red wolves were released into the wild population. In 2021 alone, seven red wolves were confirmed killed by vehicle strikes, gunshots, and unknown causes. Gunshots are the leading cause of death for wild red wolves, followed by vehicle strikes, according to the news release.

Twenty-thousand acres of prime habitat across five Southeastern states have been identified as potential reintroduction sites for the species.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

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Joe Jurney