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Thursday August 18th

Carolina Tiger Rescue welcomes critically endangered Red Wolves to sanctuary

A red wolf rests in the shade in an enclosure at the Carolina Tiger Rescue on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
Buy Photos A red wolf rests in the shade in an enclosure at the Carolina Tiger Rescue on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

Carolina Tiger Rescue, a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary in Pittsboro, has welcomed two red wolves — the most endangered canid species in the world — to their habitat. 

The 3-year-old red wolves, Caroline and Mist, joined the Sanctuary earlier this month. 

The center is the most recent of 50 facilities to join the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, which began in 1984 with the goal of protecting this critically endangered species through captive breeding, caretaking and public education. 

“We just feel really privileged to be able to have a small part in helping do what we can to save endangered red wolves,” Carolina Tiger Rescue Communications Director Louise Orr said. 

Red wolves are the only canid — a family that includes coyotes, dogs, foxes, jackals and wolves — that is entirely indigenous to the United States. Historically native to the Southeast, there are about 17 tracked red wolves in the wild and 222 under human care, Lasher said. 

Chris Lasher, the RWSSP coordinator, said the plan was created to increase the number of red wolves under human care. 

“The more wolves we have, the more likely we are be able to breed wolves that are not as related to each other,” he said. 

Caroline and Mist will be living at Carolina Tiger Rescue until they are 5, at which point they will be old enough to be matched with a mate for breeding. 

Unlike the other animals at Carolina Tiger Rescue, the sisters will not be available for public viewing in order to ensure they maintain a "healthy fear of humans."

Erika Banter, a red wolf zookeeper at Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, Va., said she was the primary keeper of Caroline and Mist before their arrival at the Carolina Tiger Rescue. 

The caretaking of red wolves is distinct because there is little interaction between humans and wolves, she said. Keepers are told not to make eye contact with or speak to them. 

To avoid dependable routine or associating keepers with food, Banter said, they stagger feedings and meal contents. 

"That's really our goal as a zoo, is to keep the public a little farther away and keep the wolves more wild," she said. 

Looking ahead

Although Carolina Tiger Rescue doesn't serve as a breeding facility, it plays a role in housing young wolves before breeding or older wolves who don’t need to be bred, Orr said. 

“Allowing that space at other institutions for animals to breed is critically important to this and adds to the success of the captive program,” Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, said. 

Lasher said it is important to breed red wolves while reintroducing them to their natural ecosystems. The absence of red wolves, who serve as apex predators, has unbalanced the food chain, so reintroducing them to their environments is particularly important. 

Tara Harrison is an associate professor of zoological and exotic animal medicine at the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the adviser for the Carnivore Conservation Crew at N.C. State, is comprised of veterinary students who help care for and release red wolves.

“Being able to be part of reintroducing these animals to the wild has just been the greatest feeling ever,” she said. “It’s great, and it’s wonderful to have so many people working together all over the world to help this species and be able to preserve it.”

The public won’t be able to interact with Caroline and Mist in person, but Orr said Carolina Tiger Rescue plans to keep its social media updated with photos, news and general information about red wolves. 

“We’re really excited, we hope everyone else is excited, and that people become just as passionate about saving red wolves as we are,” she said.

@eliza_benbow

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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