United States: the return of the red wolf is again compromised

TURTLE FOOTSTEPS

“The release of red wolves into captivity over the past two years has not had the expected results, but beneficial steps to increase the wild population have been taken under management programs,” Joe Madison, a Fish and Service biologist, said in an email. of Wildlife that manages North Carolina’s red wolves. “This foundation guides our actions, as we learn from this experience and take actions that will increase the chances of success and the number of breeding pairs in the population.”

Regina Mossotti shares the biologist’s opinion. According to her, the Red Wolf Recovery Program “was the [premier programme] reintroduction, throughout human history, of a large carnivore in a territory where it had been eradicated”.

“It was difficult at first, but eventually the wolves did what they were supposed to do: avoid humans, hunt, have cubs and raise them in packs made up of family members. And their population has increased,” he adds.

If, despite an infinity of challenges, this feat has already been possible in the past, everything indicates that it can be repeated. We cannot forget this, as the species recovery program resumes in a delicate context: wild red wolves are so few in number in the country that there is no other choice but to reintroduce animals born in captivity to replenish the population.

For program proponents, this is an opportunity to “reset everything” and correct past mistakes. Its detractors claim (ignoring the complex reasons for its precipitous decline, including the discontinuation of coyote neutering and the rearing of wolf pups, practices that have borne fruit) that the handful of red wolves in the wild demonstrates that the species’ recovery is unlikely with current techniques.

No doubt encouraged by recent court rulings and renewed collaboration between state and non-governmental agencies, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to improve public awareness in the area of ​​canine recovery since the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, re-committing to protect the species in consultation with residents.

This includes initiatives such as the “Prey for the Pack” outreach program, which helps local residents with habitat improvement projects “benefiting landowners and wildlife”; a toll free number dedicated to the red wolf; and public information meetings. Mobile signs placed in areas where the wolf is present encourage drivers to slow down and make the population aware of the canine (some inhabitants did not know it lived in the region).

A new Red Wolf Recovery Team, comprised of scientists, federal and state agencies, tribal representatives, local landowners, zoos, nature reserves and NGOs, was formed in 2021. to more constructive discussions and better ideas about the coexistence between humans and canids.

The Red Wolf Recovery Team counts among its members Wes Seegars. North Carolina’s wildlife commissioner and owner of a farm and hunting grounds within the Red Wolf Recovery Area sees the influx of coyotes into the area as the biggest obstacle to the wolf’s return.

“I think it’s impossible today to have purebred red wolves, no matter how much money you spend on it,” he says. The area is home to several thousand coyotes, and red wolves hybridize with them when they cannot find other mates.

The team, which is due to deliver its review of the Red Wolf Recovery Plan in February 2023 (the last one dates back to 1990), has opened a public consultation on its draft plan. This pays special attention to two aspects of strategic importance: finding additional reintroduction sites within the historic red wolves territory to increase their distribution, and ensuring the species’ long-term genetic diversity, thanks to 240 canines living in captivity. Texas hybrid coyotes with significant amounts of red wolf DNA could eventually ensure the genetic restoration of the species.

The long saga of the red wolf, saves in extremis from extinction before approaching again and currently struggling to survive, illustrates the complexity of interactions between humans and predators, as well as the difficulties of conservation work. In this new period of the Anthropocene, marked by the acceleration of extinctions, we can only hope one day to be able to tell the beautiful story of the great return of the red wolf.

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