Red wolves are a critically endangered species and researchers are hoping the recent introduction of a young male red wolf on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge will assist in adding to the numbers.
A three-and-a-half year old healthy male red wolf was recently flown to St. Vincent by the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC), according to a release from the center.
The goal is to introduce the wolf to a potential mate on the remote barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, which has several wolves within its boundaries.
Born at the WCC, the new male wolf is one of five captive red wolves living at the center as part of its participation in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the critically endangered species.
Currently, less than 100 live in the wild, all of them in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, while fewer than 200 are in captivity.
The male wolf was selected to be paired with one of the females currently living on St. Vincent because of his genetic profile.
“He’s the best breeding match for her in the SSP program in terms of diversity,” said Rebecca Bose, WCC curator, “It’s kind of like online dating except based almost exclusively on genetics. And of course the stakes – the survival of a species – are much higher.”
The wolf was in essence a trade-out of another wolf that was from the Tallahassee Museum but did not mate after introduction to St. Vincent.
“This is like an early Christmas present for St. Vincent Island,” said Trish Petrie of the Friends of St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. “(Refuge manager) Shelly (Stiaes) is so excited.”
It is vital that a healthy number of red wolves be maintained in the wild and captivity, especially since the species has literally come under fire recently.
Nine wild red wolves have been illegally shot this year, six of them this fall.
While the public can visit St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, access and usage are limited, so the pair should be free of any human threats.
The WCC partnered with Lighthawk, a nonprofit aviation organization devoted to environmental protection, to fly the potential Romeo to the refuge to meet his potential Juliet, who is currently one of two wolves living on the island.
The other wolf, a female and the male from Tallahassee she failed to breed with will be flown back to the WCC to live with a new potential mate.
The new red wolf at St. Vincent Island has educated online viewers of the WCC’s videos and webcams since he was a playful pup, but is now assuming his most important role.
“We’re excited for him because he’ll get to roam around a new territory with his partner and hopefully have pups. He’ll be living life the way a wolf should,” said Maggie Howell, the WCC’s Executive Director, “This is precisely why we participate in the SSP program.”
While the young male wolf, identified by researches by his number M1804, may no longer be under the care of the WCC, the center plans to help keep tabs on him by sponsoring his radio collar so that scientists can track his movements to gain valuable insights into his behavior.
There’s no way to predict whether the pairing will be a love connection, but it might not take long to find out, according to the WCC.
Wolves only breed in the winter, with pups born in the spring, so the wolf’s island sojourn may prove fruitful in just a few months.
And if no love connection?
“Well, at least he’ll get to enjoy warmer weather than we do,” Bose said. “And there’s always next breeding season. Sometimes these things take time.”