The red wolf is an endangered species that is currently found in the wild: 1) as experimental populations on Alligator River, Pocosin Lakes, and Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuges and adjacent private lands in Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington, and Beaufort Counties, North Carolina and; 2) as an endangered species in three small island propagation projects located on Bulls Island, South Carolina; St. Vincent and Cape St. George Islands, Florida. These four carefully managed wild populations contain a total of approximately 100 animals. The remaining red wolves are located in 34 captive-breeding facilities in the United States. The captive population presently numbers approximately 170 animals.
The First Five Years of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge 1987-1992
The 5-year experiment to re-establish a population of red wolves in Alligator River in northeastern North Carolina ended October 1, 1992.
From September 14, 1987, through September 30, 1992, 42 wolves (adults-10 males, 9 females; yearlings-1 female; pups-12 males, 10 females) were initially released on 15 occasions. Four releases were conducted in 1987, two in 1988, five in 1989, two in 1990, one in 1991, and one in 1992. As of September 30, 1992, there were at least 30 free ranging wolves in northeastern North Carolina.
Animals were initially released as members of seven adult pairs, an adult and a yearling, an adult and a pup, five families, and one sibling pair. Adults are defined as animals 24 months or greater in age, and pups are 12 months or less in age. Released adults ranged in age from 2.25 years to 7.33 years.
Wide-ranging movements that created management situations or led to the death of some animals soon after release were common. Of the 31 releases of adults and 22 releases of pups, 18 adults and 10 pups either had to be returned to captivity or died within 2 months. Length of acclimation , release area, location of resident wolves, and type of social group released all affected a wolf's probability of successfully establishing itself in the wild.
Of the 42 wolves released, 22 died; 7 were returned to captivity for management reasons; 11 were free-ranging through September 30, 1992; and the fates of 2 are unknown. Length of time in the wild varied from 16 days to 3.5 years.
Reintroduced wolves were killed by one of at least seven mortality factors. Vehicles (n=8), intraspecific aggression (n=5), and drownings (n=4) were the most significant causes of mortality. It is a measure of the program's success that all but two of the deaths were natural or accidental, not as a result of any irresponsible action by a private citizen.
A minimum of 22 wolves were born in the wild. These animals were members of eight litters produced by 11 adults (6 males, 5 females). Two litters were produced in 1988, at least one in 1990, four in 1991, and at least one in 1992. No pups were born in the wild during 1989 because there were no adult pairs together during the breeding season.
Only two wild-born died, and the fate of one is unknown. As of September 30, 1992, wild-born wolves accounted for 63 percent of the known population (19 of 30).
Of the 11 adults that bred in the wild, 1 was wild-born and 10 were captive-born. Wild-born offspring are evidence that captive-born-and-reared adults can make the transition from captivity to life in the wild.
As expected, wild-born pups exhibited wide-ranging movements as they dispersed from natal home ranges. These animals, with the exception of one female, traveled up to 192 km before establishing new home ranges on private land south or west of Alligator River NWR. One female was killed by a vehicle before she established a new home range. Dispersal age ranged from 7 to 22 months. The youngest dispersers were siblings that left their natal home range after their parents were returned to captivity. Likewise, another female dispersed at a young age after her mother was returned to captivity. It is likely that some or all of these pups would not have dispersed had their families remained intact.
Twenty-four of the released wolves were recaptured 63 times, and 17 wild-born wolves were recaptured 39 times. Most recaptures were necessary in order to meet program objectives (replace radio collars, place a specific wolf with a mate, translocate an animal to a suitable site, etc.). Every management problem was resolved without inflicting significant long-term damage to animals and with little or inconvenience to residents of the area.
Captive breeding was an integral component of the reintroduction. Since 1987, 79 wolves have been held in captivity at Alligator River NWR for varying periods of time. As of September 30, 1992, 10 wolves were in captivity. During the 5-year experiment, 20 captive adult pairs produced 34 pups. With access to 12 pens, Alligator River will continue to be an important component of the red wolf captive breeding program.
By almost every measure, the reintroduction experiment was successful and generated benefits that extended beyond the immediate conservation of red wolves to positively affect local citizens and communities, larger conservation efforts, and other imperiled species. During the 5 year experiment, four important points surfaced:
1. Since every management problem was resolved without inflicting long-term damage to animals and with little inconvenience to residents of the area, it is evident that red wolves can be restored in a controlled manner.
2. Significant land-use restrictions were not necessary in order for red wolves to survive. Indeed, hunting and trapping regulations for Alligator River remained unchanged or were further relaxed during the experiment. Additionally, no restrictions were needed in order for red wolves to survive on private land.
3. Red wolves and sportsmen can coexist. Many hunters and trappers expressed support, while others actively contributed to the success of the experiment by reporting sightings of red wolves.
4. The reintroduction area, which encompasses about 250,000 acres (111,750 hectares), probably cannot support 30 red wolves for an extended period of time. Dispersal outside the reintroduction area by wild-born red wolves has occurred and will continue. Efforts will be made to work with private landowners to allow wolves on private property. In addition to dispersal, the future of the red wolf population is threatened by its smallness; many events (e.g., disease outbreaks) can cause extinction of small populations.
Increasing the size of the wolf population minimizes threats to its survival. The primary factor limiting population size is the size of the reintroduction area. A larger reintroduction area would provide habitat for dispersing wolves and provide the Service with opportunities to release additional wolves. Fortunately, the reintroduction area can be easily enlarged by adding to the project the 112,000-acre/(43,327-hectare) Pocosin Lakes NWR (Pocosin Lakes). Purchased in 1990 and located in Washington, Tyrrell, and Hyde Counties, North Carolina, Pocosin Lakes is ideal for probably 15 to 25 wolves. It is large in size, remote, has abundant prey populations, and is in close proximity to Alligator River NWR.
Meetings with the public and local governments were held to present the results of the first 5 years and to solicit input on a proposal to maintain the current population and expand the reintroduction westward to encompass Pocosin Lakes NWR, beginning in 1993. The seven public meetings were held in the communities of Engelhard, Manteo, Stumpy Point, East Lake, Columbia, Swanquarter, Washington, and Plymouth. Attendance at these meetings ranged from 7 to 90 people and totaled 146 at all locations. Meetings were also held with the county commissioners in Washington, Dare, Beaufort, Tyrrell, and Hyde Counties.
Reintroductions were generally supported by local, State, and Federal agencies' elected officials; and the general public, except for some private land owners and the county boards of commissioners in Hyde and Washington Counties, North Carolina. Most people who commented supported the restoration project, although some expressed concerns about the effect of red wolves on activities on private land. The Service assured them that, because free-ranging wolves were legally classified as members of an experimental nonessential population, the wolves would not negatively impact legal activities on private or Federal land.
Some citizens used the meetings to express frustration about other matters involving the Service. No significant complaints were voiced specifically about the red wolf reintroduction experiment. However, Hyde and Washington Counties did pass resolutions opposing red wolf project expansion. These resolutions seemed to be based on anti-Federal government sentiment and a fear of prohibitions on private land use.
After consideration of the results from the 5-year experimental reintroduction and public input received in public meetings and meetings with State and local governments and agencies, the Service determined that it would maintain the present populations at Alligator River NWR and expand this population with reintroduction at Pocosin Lakes beginning in 1993.