Following the deaths of two federally protected red wolves, the tables have been turned on hunters and a hefty reward is being offered for information leading to whoever shot and killed them.
Once the victim of bounty programs, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980 and are still considered one of the most endangered wild canids in the world. Despite protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the success of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, their population is still only at about 100 wolves in the wild who live solely in North Carolina.
Unfortunately, they continue to find themselves in the crosshairs. At the end of October, two red wolves were found shot to death within days of each other in Washington County after their radio collars stopped transmitting. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is asking for help finding the guilty parties and is offering a reward that has been added to by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Red Wolf Coalition, Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity, bringing the total up to $21,000.
Under the law, killing one of these wolves can result in one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Unfortunately, being shot continues to be the number one cause of death for these rare wolves. Six have already died this way this year and were followed by yet another who was found dead in Tyrrell County this week, along with a radio collar that appeared to have been cut off.
Whether they’re being shot intentionally or whether its a case of mistaken identity remains a mystery. One of their biggest problems now is that they closely resemble coyotes who can be legally killed year round at any time of day or night – including by spotlight at night – within the Red Wolf Recovery Area, which covers about 1.7 million acres and crosses five counties.
In 2012, eight were killed by hunters. The numbers might seem low, but with such a small population it’s a big problem. Not only does killing them remove wolves from the population, but it disrupts the family structure of packs, which can affect reproduction. According to the FWS, pup counts were already lower this year than they have been in recent years.
Last winter, the court blocked a temporary rule allowing hunters to use spotlights and artificial calls to kill coyotes, but the General Assembly allowed the permanent rule to take effect in late July.
The Southern Environmental Law Center has continued the battle for their protection and filed a complaint on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, Red Wolf Coalition and Defenders of Wildlife last month arguing that the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission violated the ESA by causing unlawful “take” of red wolves by allowing coyote hunting within the recovery area.
“Following the mandate of the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has gone to great lengths to reintroduce the red wolf into the wild and provide for its recovery,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. “For a state agency to encourage hunting—in the middle of the recovery area—of an animal that cannot readily be distinguished from the red wolf, and to further sanction such hunting at night, defies logic and certainly sabotages red wolf recovery.”
Wildlife officials seem to be sticking with their support of open season on coyotes and issued a statement that “current coyote hunting regulations are in the best interest of the public, the environment and the agricultural community,” and that the rules are not in violation of the ESA. Hopefully the court will disagree.
Meanwhile, the FWS is urging anyone with information about any red wolf deaths to contact Resident Agent in Charge John Elofson at (404) 763-7959, Refuge Officer Frank Simms at (252) 216-7504, or North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at (252) 216-8225.
Photo credit: OnceAndFutureLaura