The Red Wolf, On the Brink
By Christopher Lile Photo by Monty Sloan
Christopher Lile is the Program Coordinator at Wolf Park, the founder of Concerts for Conservation, and a red wolf advocate for Defenders of Wildlife.
A hundred and fifty years ago, the iconic howls of the red wolf echoed across the southeast. These reddish-brown canids lived and traveled in family groups. They kept prey animals in check, which in turn kept forests and rivers healthy. And through these ripple effects, known as trophic cascades, they positively affected the rest of the ecosystem – birds, pollinators, small mammals, and even humans.
Unfortunately, after being subjected to over a century of government-funded extermination campaigns, the red wolf (along with the gray wolf) was nearly driven to extinction. In fact, only 17 red wolves remained by 1980. Fortunately, forward-thinking biologists pulled these individuals into captivity to save the species from extinction. Within 7 years, thanks to the captive breeding program, red wolves were released back into the wild, in eastern North Carolina.
For nearly 30 years, the red wolf recovery program was touted as a conservation success. The population grew to over 150 wolves and set the stage for gray wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone.
“When we first started working with this wolf, he was 99 miles down a 100-mile-long road to extinction.” -Curtis Carley, first FWS red wolf recovery project field coordinator, at a public presentation in 1977
The last six years for the red wolf, however, has been extremely difficult. Due to federal mismanagement and pressure from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the species has once more been pushed to the edge.
Today, fewer than 15 red wolves remain in the wild
The absence of the red wolf’s iconic howl throughout most of the southeast represents just a small portion of the destruction that humans have caused to our ecosystems. Due to our actions, our earth is beginning to experience a sixth mass extinction event. But instead of an asteroid, humans are instigating this unnatural event. 500 species have faded into extinction in the past 100 years. Over 60 percent of global wildlife populations have disappeared in the last 50 years. And more than 16,000 plant and animal species currently reside on the endangered species list.
The responsibility for this catastrophe transcends national borders, political spectrums, and religious ideologies. We all must step up and take action. Because whether you are an ecologist or a pastor, all life in our world is connected. We cannot destroy wildlife and ecosystems without destroying ourselves.
Confronting this crisis is daunting but we can all be a voice for the voiceless. And for the red wolf, they need a voice now more than ever.
If you would like to learn more about the red wolf and support conservation efforts, please attend the second annualConcert for Conservation. March 29th at 4:00pm at First United Methodist Church of Waynesville.