Carolina Tiger Rescue welcomes critically endangered red wolves to its sanctuary

Carolina Tiger Rescue, a nonprofit Pittsboro wildlife sanctuary, welcomed two red wolves — the world’s most endangered canine species — into their habitat.

3-year-old Red Wolves Caroline and Mist joined the Sanctuary earlier this month.

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

“We feel truly privileged to be able to play a small role in helping do what we can to save endangered red wolves,” said Louise Orr, communications director for Carolina Tiger Rescue.

Red wolves are the only canid – a family that includes coyotes, dogs, foxes, jackals and wolves – that is entirely native to the United States. Historically native to the southeast, there are about 17 hunted red wolves in the wild and 222 in 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 to breed wolves that aren’t as bonded to each other,” he said.

Caroline and Mist will live at Carolina Tiger Rescue until they are 5 years old, when they will be old enough to be paired with a mate for breeding.

Unlike the other animals at Carolina Tiger Rescue, the sisters won’t be available to the public to ensure they maintain a “healthy fear of humans.”

Erika Banter, a red wolf keeper at Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, Va., said she was Caroline and Mist’s primary caretaker before they arrived at Carolina Tiger Rescue.

The Red Wolf guard is distinct because there is little interaction between humans and wolves, she said. Guards are asked not to look them in the eye or speak to them.

To avoid a reliable routine or associating caretakers with food, Banter said, they stagger feedings and meal contents.

“That’s really our goal as a zoo, is to keep the public a bit further away and to keep the wolves wilder,” she said.

Look forward

Although Carolina Tiger Rescue does not serve as a breeding facility, it does play a role in housing pre-breeding young wolves or older wolves that don’t need to be bred, Orr said.

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

Lasher said it was important to breed red wolves while reintroducing them to their natural ecosystems. the the absence of red wolves, which serve as apex predators, has thrown the food chain out of balance, so it is especially important to reintroduce them to their environment.

Tara Harrison is an Associate Professor of Zoological and Exotic Animal Medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. She is also a consultant for the The NC State Carnivore Conservation Team is made up of veterinary students who help care for and release red wolves.

“Being able to help bring these animals back into the wild has been the greatest feeling ever,” she said. “It’s great, and it’s wonderful to have so many people working together around the world to help this species and to be able to save 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 up to date with photos, news and general Red Wolf information.

“We’re really excited, we hope everyone is excited and people become just as passionate as we are about saving the Red Wolves,” she said.

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