Red wolves are the rarest of North American wolves. They were so close to extinction that the US Government captured all the known wild animals and put them into a captive breeding program. Efforts to return the red wolf to the wild have not been very successful. The wild population is down to a handful of individuals in North Carolina. A red wolf killed in North Carolina brings the animal closer to extinction in the wild.
The red wolf killed was a male and was shot according to the Raleigh, North Carolina News&Observer. Rewards topping $15,000 for information in the case have been offered by government agencies and conservation groups.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is named for the reddish cast of its fur. It was once common but it has lost almost all of its range due to human activity. The wolf was collared for tracking. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is maintaining an active red wolf recovery project.
The remaining wolves are confined to the Albemarle Peninsula, which also has the distinction of being rural enough to boast the darkest night time skies on the East Coast, According to the North Carolina State University:
“The Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (APP) in eastern North Carolina is a 6000 square kilometer rural landscape comprised mostly of forested wetlands, herbaceous wetlands, upland pine forests, row-crop agriculture, and blackwater creeks. The peninsula is surrounded by the second largest estuarine complex in North America, which is buffered from the Atlantic Ocean by a chain of barrier islands. Though >50% of the peninsula is comprised of wetlands, the extant freshwater and brackish wetlands are only a small remnant of the historical wetlands existing prior to timber extraction in the 19th and 20th centuries and large-scale conversion to agriculture beginning in the 1970s.”
The fish and wildlife service is maintaining a close watch on the wild wolves. The captive breeding program is extensive and involves dozens of partners who work with fish and wildlife to try and preserve the species and re-establish it in the wild.
One difficult problem is that the wolves can be mistaken for coyotes. Coyotes are not protected and are subject to hunting. They can also interbreed with the wolves, diluting the gene pool.