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Howling for March Madness: Report Highlights NC Red Wolves

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PHOTO: North Carolina's population of 100 red wolves on a small peninsula near Columbia, NC, are the only ones in the wild on the continent. Photo courtesy: Red Wolf Coalition
PHOTO: North Carolina's population of 100 red wolves on a small peninsula near Columbia, NC, are the only ones in the wild on the continent. Photo courtesy: Red Wolf Coalition
March 12, 2014

COLUMBIA, N.C. - The North Carolina State Wolfpacks basketball team has no shortage of fans, especially as March Madness approaches. But a new report by the National Wildlife Federation indicates the state's red wolf population could use a few more fans of its own.

North Carolina is host to the continent's only population of red wolves. Biologists are working hard to grow the population that totals only about 100 living near Columbia.

Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, said it all comes down to the wolves' determination to fight extinction.

"You have to give so much credit to the animals themselves and their ability to come from a captive population and survive in the wild," she said. "And, as challenges have come up, they have been able to adapt to those challenges."

Red wolves became extinct in the 1980s but those living in eastern North Carolina have shown signs of growth.

According to the "Mascot Madness" report from NWF, climate change is having a significant impact on the red wolf populations. They live on a peninsula, where the threat of hurricanes and changes in plant composition affect their food sources.

The significance of the red wolf population isn't lost on N.C. State, according to school spokesman Tim Peeler.

"The wolf mascot itself has been something that has been adopted by the fan base, by the kids who come to games," he said. "So the wolf is a big, bright, friendly kind of mascot."

There is no actual wolf housed on N.C. State's campus, and the school employs a wolf-like dog to serve as its mascot during games, in addition to 'Mr. and Ms. Wuf.'

National Wildlife Federation senior scientist Dr. Doug Inkley, a lead author of the mascot report, said it's imperative that action is taken so the endangered animals can be found in the wild, not just in zoos and on college game sidelines.

"It could be 'game over' for many of the wildlife mascots," he said, "unless we reduce our carbon pollution that's causing climate change, and unless we develop new clean energy sources."

Other North Carolina "mascot" animals highlighted in the report include the wildcat, which is Davidson University's mascot, and the ram, the emblem for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Read the report on Mascot Madness from the National Wildlife Federation/a>.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC