Coyote Spotlighting Risks Endangered Red Wolves
North Carolina Spotlight Hunting Threatens Red Wolf
Shooters Reported Mistaking Endangered Red Wolves for Coyotes
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service records, at least three of the ten endangered red wolves shot and killed in 2012 were reported by the shooters as mistaken for coyotes. Read more in the press release.
Accidental shootings are at the heart of concerns over a proposed state rule that allows spotlight hunting of coyotes at night throughout North Carolina, including in the area inhabited by the only wild population of red wolves, one of the world’s most endangered animals.
Gunshot deaths are a significant threat to red wolf (Canis rufus) recovery. Once extinct in the wild, the red wolf was reintroduced in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. With only about 100 wild red wolves now living in five counties on the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina, the wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes even in daylight. Red wolves and coyotes are similar in appearance, coats, and coloring. Red wolf yearlings are similar in size and weight to coyotes.
To prevent wolves interbreeding with coyotes—another threat to the wolf population—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sterilizes coyotes that have territories within red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes will undo effective coyote population control efforts and further jeopardize the native red wolf population.
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a court challenge against the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and a request to stop the temporary rule in Wake County Superior Court on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute. On November 26, 2012, the court halted the temporary rule after at least four red wolves were shot and killed.
With a permanent rule pending, the law center notified the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that it is in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing spotlight hunting of coyotes and the groups will file a federal enforcement action unless the commission takes steps to protect the wolves.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service echoed the concerns for the red wolves and also raised concerns about the safety of its personnel who handle coyotes or wolves at dusk, citing the fatal shooting at a Georgia trailhead of a National Forest Service officer that occurred when a hunter believed he was shooting at the reflection of a coyote’s eyes at night. The National Forest Service raised similar concerns as well as concern for people using national forests for recreation who may be present at night and difficult to see.