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Red Wolves: A story of resilience

Star Staff Report
The Star

Ever wondered about the story behind the red wolves living on St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge? Here’s a chance to learn!

Kim Wheeler, Executive Director of the nonprofit Red Wolf Coalition, will provide a presentation about the highly endangered wolves as part of the Friends of the Refuge’s Winter Speaker Series.

Wheeler’s talk will be free and open to the public at the historical Port St. Joe Garden Center at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, Feb. 6

Kim Wheeler lives and works in the heart of red wolf country in northeastern North Carolina as a community leader advocate and educator. Kim is the 2009 recipient of the “Who Speaks for Wolf” award from the International Wolf Center and the 2016 recipient of the Roosevelt Ashe Outstanding Educator in Conservation.

Here are excerpts of a recent interview between Wheeler and Refuge Friends’ President, Susan Cerulean:

Why have you dedicated so much of your life to red wolves, Kim?

My wolf work started when I became a pup care volunteer at the International Wolf Center. Once I met and learned about them, it was love. The red wolf story is one of determination and resilience. The wolves themselves, as well as the men and woman who have dedicated their careers to the red wolf, inspire me, and I work to do something positive for them every day.

What challenges face red wolves?

Human tolerance is the biggest challenge. Red wolves, smaller, thinner cousins of the gray wolf, are the Southeast’s native canid, but tragically, the world’s most endangered due to illegal gunshot mortality, vehicle injury and death, and habitat loss due to human development.

Describe your day-to-day activities as a wolf conservationist.

One of my favorite jobs is volunteer caretaker for two red wolves, Sierra and Manny. These two beautiful souls reside at the Red Wolf Education Center located on Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge property near my home in Columbia, N.C. But I also develop and present education programs, work with my board of directors on fundraising, and do all the administrative tasks for the Coalition. I’ve been with the coalition for 15 years. My background is in sales and marketing, so moving to a non-profit was a huge change for me. I still think it was the best move ever!

Tell us more about the Red Wolf Coalition.

Our organization was established in 1997 by a field biologist who saw a need for education and outreach beyond the efforts of the USFWS. We advocate for the long -term survival of red wolf populations through education programs and by fostering public involvement in red wolf conservation.

Kim, what gives you hope for red wolves?

I don’t really have a choice; I refuse to believe that red wolves can’t live in the wild. The kids I talk with give me hope that the next generation will take up our cause. I am constantly amazed by our supporters that spring into action and support our work. The red wolf partners continue to inspire me and I know that without them, the future of the red wolf would be in question.

St. Vincent NWR is an essential part of the red wolf recovery program, offering a remote, protected propagation site. Island propagation projects serve as a bridge between captive and wild red wolf populations.

The animals on this island show us that animals born in captivity can find their “wildness,” which lead to their life in the wild. Today, the St. Vincent animals hold the next chapter for red wolves’ success in the wild.

“The Red Wolf Coalition is a cherished partner and a key voice for the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program,” says Dan Frisk, Project Leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Kim’s perseverance and leadership has kept the public well informed and inspired regarding the protection of the red wolf and its recovery.”