(ENDANGERED SPECIES/WILDLIFE) The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) recently filed against the North Carolina State Wildlife Agency for authorizing day and night hunting of coyotes in the red wolves’ protected area.

Coyotes look very similar to endangered red wolves, and there are shockingly only 90 to 110 of the species left in the wild.

With their hunting authorization, the North Carolina State Wildlife Agency is violating the Endangered Species Act.

The hearing of the injunction will take place Tuesday, February 11.

The red wolf is one of the world's most endangered animals.
The red wolf is an extremely endangered species with numbers fluctuating between 90 and 110. Photo credit: e_monk via flickr

Red Wolf Facts:

  • The red wolf (Canis rufus) once ranged throughout the Eastern and South-Central United States. Intensive predator control programs and the degradation and alteration of the species’ habitat had greatly reduced its numbers by the early 20th Century.
  • Designated as an endangered species in 1967, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In 1987, an experimental population of red wolves was reintroduced into eastern North Carolina. Four pairs were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The red wolf recovery area is approximately 1.7 million acres along North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. This is the home to the only population in the wild.
  • Between June 2013, when the Red Wolf Education Center opened, to December 2013, there were approximately 2,000 visitors from around the world who came to learn about red wolves.
  • The total current estimated population is only between 90 and 110 wolves, making the red wolf one of the most endangered species in the world.
  • The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined gunshot mortality is the single biggest threat to the recovery of the wild red wolf population. Since 2008, up to ten percent of the wild population has been shot and killed each year.

    While trying to regulate coyote and wolf populations, Wildlife Services mistakenly killed 50,000 other species of animals. Photo Credit: Biology_2380 via Flickr
    Red wolves and coyotes (pictured above) share a striking resemblance. Photo Credit: Biology_2380 via Flickr
  • Because of the similarity of appearance between red wolves and coyotes, it is nearly impossible for individual hunters to avoid shooting red wolves, during the day or night. USFWS red wolf recovery team members believe the wolves tend to be killed because they are considered to be large coyotes and thus make for larger hunting trophies.
  • To combat interbreeding and lower coyote populations in the area, the USFWS captures and sterilizes coyotes. Sterilized coyotes are then outfitted with radio collars, released back into the wild and utilized by the USFWS to expand the range of red wolves. Hunting coyotes in the red wolf recovery area—and thus the shooting of sterilized “placeholder” coyotes—allows unsterilized coyotes to move into red wolf territory, increasing opportunities for inbreeding between red wolves and coyotes, decreasing the genetic integrity of the wild population, and injuring red wolves by disrupting population dynamics.

    endangered species, endangered animals, wolves, red wolves, wolf, AWI, North Carolina, pictures of animals
    There are only about 100 red wolves left in the wild, and their only location in the entire world is in North Carolina. Photo Credit: awionline.org
  • Daytime coyote hunting has been authorized in the recovery area by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) since 1993, and they proposed adding night time hunting with spotlights in February of 2012. A coalition of conservation organizations (Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Red Wolf Coalition and Southern Environmental Law Center) sued and obtained a temporary injunction to block the temporary rulemaking (authorizing night time hunting with spotlights in the recovery area) in November 2012. However, the North Carolina General Assembly then allowed the permanent rulemaking to go into effect in July 2013.
  • There is no language in the state regulations indicating the red wolves should be avoided when killing coyotes, and no information distributed to hunters to inform them that red wolves live in the recovery area and should be avoided when hunting or shooting coyotes.
  • Just between October 28 and November 19, 2013, USFWS recovered the bodies of five red wolves with gunshot wounds, and a collar for a sixth. A month later, they found a bullet-ridden body of a seventh red wolf. Nearly 10 percent of the population died during this time span.
  • Anyone found responsible for illegally “taking” or killing red wolves is subject to up to a year in prison and $100,000 fine, but the threat of this punishment and the $25,000+ reward offer still has not resulted in any leads for Fall 2013 deaths.
  • According to USFWS, red wolves rely heavily on the set social structure of a pack, comprised of five to eight wolves, to grow and maintain the population. One component of that pack involves breeding pairs, or “breeders”—two wolves that bond for life and mate once a year in February.
  • All seven wolves killed during the Fall 2013 span were adults, and by extension, potential breeders. These breeder deaths can hinder populations in the future because they are what actually contributes to the growth of the wolves’ population. In addition, the total number of red wolf pups born during whelping season has decreased each of the last three years, from 43 pups in 2010, to 34 pups in 2013.
  • The 60-day notice of intent to sue for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for violations of the Endangered Species Act, causing the illegal take of endangered red wolves by authorizing day and night hunting was filed on July 30, 2013. The federal complaint was filed on October 17, 2013, and the motion for a preliminary injunction was filed on December 16, 2013. The hearing on the injunction is Tuesday, February 11, 2014.

Visit AWI Online to learn more on the background of the case, check out case media, and view additional resources related to this case.

— Kayla Newcomer, exclusive to Global Animal