Captive male red wolf at Sandy Ridge facility, near Columbia, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Nordsven, red wolf biologist with USFWS)
It’s been exactly six months since I posted on Wild Muse. What have I been up to since then? I finished my first non-fiction book! (No, really! It’s done!) It’s tentatively titled The Secret World of Red Wolves: A True Story of North America’s Other Wolf. Writing this book is a singular accomplishment in my life. If you’ve read this blog, you’re probably familiar with the book’s topic. But if you’re not familiar, then here’s a quick recap: it’s a story of the red wolf, Canis rufus, which is a predator that used to live throughout the central and southeastern United States. It’s a contested species, and its taxonomy has been elusive. Some people don’t believe it’s a wolf at all. Others believe it opens a window to a lineage of wolves that evolved solely in North America. If you’re opening another browser tab to look it up on Wikipedia, take the entry with a grain of salt, it needs improvement and the sections on its taxonomy and origins appear to be largely authored by the camp of people who disbelieve the animal is a distinct entity, without much coverage of opposing views. In the book, I cover the full spectrum of these views, in the context of how our understanding of these animals has changed as science uncovers new clues to their past origins.
Oddly, a modern detailed treatment of the red wolf’s whole story has not been told all in one place before for a general audience. The idea for this book came to me after I moved to North Carolina in late 2008. The Old North State is home to the only wild population of red wolves in the world. They have been reintroduced to the eastern part of the state, in a coastal area known locally as the Albemarle peninsula. When I moved, I knew from my previous research on Mexican gray wolves that a red wolf program was underway in North Carolina, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. In my literature review of Mexican wolves, I’d also bumped up against several papers on red wolves for which I read the abstracts but didn’t have time to read more. I filed them away for investigation at a later time, but they left me with the lingering impression that there was something controversial about the red wolf’s origins and our current understanding of its genetics.
When I finally had some free time, I searched for an in-depth non-academic book to learn about red wolves, but I was surprised I could not find a current one. The most recent one for general audiences is actually a section of a book from 1993— and believe me, a lot has transpired since then. Other recent books were written for children, or were fairly superficial and did not address any of the evolutionary origin or genetic debates that I knew had cropped up about red wolves since the mid-1990s. Writings that addessed the red wolf’s genetics and taxonomy were relegated to academic chapters within other works, and scientific papers. Without truly understanding what I was getting myself into, I began to form the idea that perhaps I should write a current book about red wolves. Afterall, I love learning about predator ecology and conservation. What could go wrong? (Well, for one thing, I didn’t know how to write a book!)
After a few months of research, I wrote a book proposal and sent it to a few university presses. The University of North Carolina Press accepted it in November of 2009. Continue reading