The red wolf is one of the rarest mammals in North America, only about 80 live in the wild on the Albemarle peninsula which juts into the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina’s shore. And right now is puppy season. Female red wolves give birth to litters as small as one or two, or as large as 10, in April. And that’s when work gets really busy for the red wolf recovery program biologists. About 50 were born this year, and the Red Wolf Recovery Program staff are still in the process of finding all the dens and documenting the litters. I spent today shadowing several program biologists in the field, and it was a very special day. Sometimes, the program slips extra red wolf puppies into a mother’s den. They get the extra puppies from captive-breeding facilities that are contributing to the species continued existence on earth. And yes, red wolves they take from captivity and foster into a wild den are pure red wolves.
To foster puppies, several things have to align. The captive-born puppies must be very close in age to the wild-born puppies, and they must be placed in the den before the pups’ eyes are open. Biologists place transmitter chips between their shoulder blades in order to identify them later. The chips are very small and are uniquely coded; they are similar to what you place in your pet. Biologists also must be able to locate the red wolf mother’s den, which is easier said than done. They use radio telemetry to locate her position and then “walk in” on her using shorter-range telemetry receivers that are smaller. This comes in handy because they are often battling their way through thick briars, tunneling beneath dense brush, or wading through a green sea of wax myrtle bushes. Once they find the den, the mother wolf usually flees and then hangs around nearby. They monitor her position with the radio telemetry. The scientists work quickly, slipping the pups in and placing them next to their new siblings. They may rub urine from the wild pups onto the foster pups so that the female wolf will be more accepting of them. They’ve never had a female wolf reject foster pups. It’s one way of augmenting the wild population numbers. The book I’m working on is about red wolves. I hope that you will want to learn about them as much as I do, because I want for there to be red wolves in the future and this requires more people knowing about them and caring about them.