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Research Shows Red Wolves Coexist with Deer, Other Game Species

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Thursday, June 17, 2021   

EAST LAKE, N.C. - There are plenty of deer, wild turkey and other game species in eastern North Carolina's red wolf recovery area, according to new research.

Wildlife scientists say while red wolves coexist with other game species, there's more work to do to build up their population, so they have a better chance of survival.

North Carolina is the only place in the world where red wolves exist in the wild. Chief Scientist at Wildlands Network Ron Sutherland has monitored the wolves and other wildlife since 2015 with motion-sensitive trail cameras in the recovery area.

Some local landowners believe red wolves are depleting game animals, but Sutherland said that doesn't appear to be the case.

"The fears that the red wolf is causing a wildlife disaster were just grossly inaccurate and misplaced," said Sutherland. "And people just need to relax about the wolves; they're part of the native ecosystem."

He said in addition to deer and turkey, the cameras captured plenty of quail, bears and other wildlife.

Three decades ago, a small group of captive-bred red wolves were released into the state's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The number of wild red wolves peaked in the mid-2000s to more than 100, but has taken a steady nosedive and is as few as 20.

Joseph Hinton, a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan Technological University, studies coyote populations in the Southeast. He said red wolves' territorial nature keeps coyotes away from areas they inhabit.

"Because there's enough coyotes everywhere that, when you create these holes, they just fill them in," said Hinton. "And with wolves, we don't have enough wolves to replace those dead wolves."

Sutherland added the presence of red wolves contributes to a healthy and thriving biodiverse landscape.

"Having the wolves helps protect the forest," said Sutherland. "And they also help control populations of things like mesopredators, which is a fancy word for medium-sized carnivores, like raccoons and possums."

Earlier this year, a small number of red wolves was released into the recovery area after conservation groups won a federal court ruling. They'd called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to speed up its plan to release more captive wolves into the wild.

Updated Thursday, June 17 at 1:00 MT to reflect estimated red wolf population, and red wolf impact on coyote range.

Disclosure: Wildlands Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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