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Home > Red Wolves of Alligator River > About The Project > The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan

The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan

by Will Waddell

Removing a species from the wild for the purpose of captive propagation is a rare event, done only when all other efforts to preserve the species in the wild (in- situ) have failed. It is better to conserve habitats and animals together. Otherwise, without quick action, population decline leads to extinction.

Red wolves were nearing extinction in the wild when the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash. established a captive-breeding program in association with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The program goals were to: (1) certify the genetic purity of wild-caught wolves, (2) increase the number of genetically pure wolves in captivity and distribute them to selected zoos and (3) maintain a viable red wolf gene pool to reestablish the species in the wild. (USFWS, 1984.)

The Point Defiance Zoo developed husbandry techniques, recruited four additional cooperating institutions to house wolves in the captive program and received the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's (AZA) approval for a Red Wolf SSP (RWSSP) program in 1984. By 1984, the captive population numbered 63 individuals and was growing, largely through the coordinated efforts of the Point Defiance Zoo and RWSSP cooperators. The reality of reintroducing a carnivore in the wild, for the first time, was now in sight. In 1987, USFWS released the first wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. By 1991, 24 zoos and nature centers were participating in the RWSSP. Twenty-two of those facilities housed wolves.

The RWSSP is the foundation of the recovery program. Without its collective expertise and resources, the future of the red wolf would be uncertain. The contributions of the RWSSP include: (1) managing populations, (2) training field personnel on techniques for proper capture and restraint, (3) applying captive research to the field and (4) reintroducing captive born red wolves.

This RWSSP continues today with 31 cooperating institutions. They provide housing, daily care, medical treatment, transportation costs (for moving wolves from one facility to another) and equipment. Based on a recent survey, total costs vary according to the number of wolves held, but average approximately $8000 per year, per facility.

One of the most important aspects of the RWSSP is education. The participating zoos inform visitors about the value of wolves in ecosystems and inspire people to support the wolf's reestablishment in the wild.

Successful conservation programs are often developed through partnerships. The red wolf recovery program is a great example of organizations working together to benefit a species. Zoos are proud to play a significant role in red wolf recovery.

Copyright: 1984 USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Plan

Reference
Rosen, William. 1999 Survey of Participants in the Red Wolf Captive Breeding Program: Preliminary Findings. (personal communication)

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