Red wolves are Animals of the Month
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The newest animal at the NEW Zoo, Itabi the red wolf, is a textbook example of how a species can be saved from extinction.
Nearly a month ago, Itabi arrived from a zoo in Akron, Ohio, and in exchange the NEW Zoo shipped out a litter of young red wolves.
This was done at the request of the Species Survival Program (SSP) from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said Holly Bree, zookeeper.
“The SSP was looking at genetics and they decided Itabi and Mayo were the best genetic fit if they were to mate and continue providing wolves for the program,” Bree said.
Mayo is the female red wolf at the NEW Zoo and people are hopeful the two will bring more red wolves into the world.
“They are one of the most endangered species in the world,” Bree said. “Back in the 1960s the population was decimated by predator control programs and habitat loss.”
The red wolf also mates with coyotes in the wild, which hurts the species from a genetic standpoint.
The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the remaining 17 wolves on earth.
“Every red wolf alive this day came from that group and of those 17, 14 were able to reproduce,” Bree said.
Red wolves have been reintroduced into the wild in North Carolina, but population numbers in the wild are in decline.
In 2015, there were 50-75 red wolves in the wild, now that number is closer to 45, Bree said.
“People see a wolf, and especially if they’re a farmer, they want it gone immediately, and it has an impact on reintroduction programs today,” she said.
That’s why accredited zoos play such a major role in keeping the species alive.
“We’re hoping we can help the species,” Bree said. “If they can produce pups, they can hopefully go to other zoos or in the wild someday.”
She pegged the number of red wolves alive in captivity at at least 200.
Because red wolves are so rare, each one is considered important and might at some point be released in the wild.
That’s why there are strict regulations for handling these wolves at the NEW Zoo.
Bree said it’s important that they do not get too acclimated to humans, because in the wild they might approach a person, who could very well kill it.
“We’re very restricted on wolves, what we can give them food-wise, toy-wise, any products or anything,” Bree said.
Itabi and Mayo aren’t fed chicken eggs, so if they were ever released into the wild, they wouldn’t raid a chicken coop.
“Theoretically, you could place them in a very far away spot from people, but they’re going to look for food, they’re going to cross paths with people,” Bree said.
Wolves don’t go for plants, instead they eat small animals and have been known to go after a deer in a pack.
At the NEW Zoo the red wolves are fed meat, dog chow, fish and deer legs for a treat.
In the wild, however, wolves have gone after livestock and dogs when smaller animals are scarce.
“It comes down to educating the public,” Bree said. “We have a chance to save this species. … This species could very well go extinct and there would be no bringing it back, education is so important for this topic.”
Wolves in northern Wisconsin and lower Michigan are gray wolves and not nearly as big as the red wolf, which is about the size of a German shepard.
Red wolves are also native to the southeastern part of the country.
Regardless of the type of wolf, Bree wants to remind people that they are not allowed to shoot them, and anyone who sees a wolf and has an issue can contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Bree said she is proud to work with the endangered red wolf and hopes others hear its story.
“I’m really proud that we have red wolves here because they have such a unique story and I love talking to visitors about them,” she said.