UPDATE AUGUST 6 2012: Mayo, Phoenix and the pups are on exhibit. Visit them in the Red Wolf Run at the WNC Nature Center!
2012 is the Year of the Red Wolf at the WNC Nature Center! Red Wolves are critically endangered, with only about 300 in the world – and only a little over 100 of those left in the wild. The Nature Center is honored to be part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for these native canids.
Rufus and Angel were chosen by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to live in Asheville as a breeding pair. They had two litters – one in 2004 with five puppies, and one in 2009 of one puppy. Mayo was the 2009 puppy, and she lives here still as our next generation breeding female. Just this January, Mayo was introduced to Phoenix, who we hoped would become the father of a new generation.
Red wolves selected as breeding pairs are chosen to increase genetic diversity in the population, and to adhere as closely as possible to the pure red wolf strain. In the past, due to dramatically decreased populations, there was some natural hybridization between red wolves and coyotes. It is these hybrid genes conservationalists are working to breed out of the species. The foundation stock for today's red wolf population came from just fourteen pure red wolf individuals.
On May 9, Mayo gave birth to four puppies, a cause for celebration at the Nature Center! These four pups (two males and two females) contribute not only to the numerical population of red wolves in the world but also to the gene pool. Hopefully these pups will someday have their own litters, and the descendants of Angel, Rufus, Mayo, and Phoenix may someday be in the wild. On August 1, the whole family moved onto exhibit where the public can now watch the pups grow.
In some ways, red wolves resemble the coyote more than their cousins the gray wolves. They are lean and slender, with short reddish coats and large ears. Their coloration varies from coppery red to dusky gray to dark brown, but the cream markings on the face and legs make them distinct. These beautiful animals were once native to most of the southeast United States, but the only wild population left in the world is in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of North Carolina.
Just like gray wolves, red wolves live and hunt in packs. These packs have a dominant breeding pair, and usually a few other individuals who may be previous litters or subordinate adults. Red wolves are carnivores, and their diet consists of a wide variety of prey – from mice and voles to deer and elk killed by the pack.
The mythology of the wolf often works against it, though most associate lore about ‘big and bad’ wolves with the larger gray wolf. Still, it a struggle against mythos and legend for the red wolf as well. Red wolves are shy creatures, just like the gray wolf, and vital components of a healthy ecosystem in their role as apex predators. Reintroducing the red wolf to its native habitat would not be a danger to human residents, but a boon to the environment. It is the hope of the WNC Nature Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service that one day red wolves will once again be found in the wilderness of western North Carolina. Until then, you have a chance to meet one of these critically endangered canines right here at the Nature Center.