Wolves of the World
Red Wolf Restoration Halted in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Editor's note: This report was originally published in the Spring 1999 issue of International Wolf Magazine and was compiled from USFWS press releases with additional information from USFWS personnel. It is presented here for background information.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS) recently decided to end the eight-year effort to restore a wild population of red wolves to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The USFWS and NPS made the decision because of extremely low pup survival and the wolves' inability to establish home ranges within the park. This decision does not affect the USFWS's more successful red wolf reintroduction in northeastern North Carolina, where 50-100 red wolves live.
"Our goal for the recovery includes establishing at least three self-sustaining wild populations, one of which we had hoped would be in the park," said USFWS Southeast Regional Director Sam Hamilton. "Establishing a reintroduced population of red wolves depends on the released animals producing wild offspring that survive to replace natural mortality and increase the population; unfortunately this did not occur."
High Pup Mortality
Pathologists found parvovirus in the remains of one pup from a litter of four pups that died during the summer of 1993, and found the carcass of another pup from a separate litter killed by coyotes that same year. Biologists also have documented malnutrition and infestation by internal and external parasites in pups and adults that have been captured.
Restoring Predators to Native Land
Wade also put the red wolf project into a broader perspective. "We have had good success with other programs to reintroduce species such as the peregrine falcon and the river otter which had been absent from the park for half a century. But we can only do so much to help a species regain a foothold in the park and, after that, the animal's biology drives the results," she said.
New Home for Park Wolves
"With the limited resources available to all endangered species programs, it is our responsibility to use the most accurate and current information to make the best choices for recovering the red wolf," says Hamilton. "This responsibility includes selecting release sites that allow us to establish a population as efficiently as possible for the sake of the species and the interests of the American public."
Federally owned land bases of 170,000 acres or more within the red wolf's historic range are being considered as potential release sites. The USFWS will identify areas that offer the greatest biological potential, and then further refine the selection based on the interests, land use and public attitudes surrounding a particular site.
"The selection of the next release site will be a very complex process, a process that must balance biological, logistical and socio-political factors, all of which can contribute to the success or failure of individual red wolves and, ultimately, to the overall recovery of the species," said Hamilton.
The USFWS estimates the selection process will take up to two years, allowing adequate time to evaluate various sites and study such factors as prey bases, road densities and human population near potential sites, and provide opportunities for public education and discussion, says Gary Henry, USFWS red wolf project leader.