As numbers dwindle, authorities ok shooting of endangered red wolf

With fewer than 100 red wolves in the wild, survival of pups like these is critical. (© Ryan Nordsven/USFWS)

The recent shooting of an endangered red wolf mother highlights the challenges facing this disappearing species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the shooting last week in the Red Wolf Recovery Area of eastern North Carolina, home to the only wild population of red wolves. 

With fewer than 100 animals remaining in the wild, the loss of any breeding adult red wolf is a significant setback to the recovery of the species. The survival, whereabouts, and number of pups in the dead wolf’s litter and their current status is unknown, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been denied access to the property to find them.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged by federal law with protecting the red wolf, yet here it is authorizing the intentional and unnecessary killing of a breeding female,” said Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Unintentional gunshot has been the leading cause of death for red wolves in recent years, and now we’re adding legally sanctioned intentional gunshot to the problem. This is not the way to recover an endangered species.”

Since the red wolf is protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is unlawful for anyone to “take” (i.e., harass, wound, kill, or trap) a red wolf, except in limited circumstances. Federal regulations authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits to take red wolves on private property after a property owner requests that wolves be removed from property and the Service abandons efforts to capture them. The landowner in this case denied the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service access to the property to trap and remove the wolves. The extent of the effort by the landowner to trap the wolf before killing it is unknown.

Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat decimated wild red wolf populations, causing them to be declared extinct in the wild in 1980. Red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in 1987 and grew to become a highly successful experimental population of over 130 animals. In recent years, accidental gunshot mortality has become a leading threat to the species.

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