Imagine being flown for free to a sunny Florida island for the express purpose of hitting it off with the only other member of your species present so that you could make babies. Wolf Conservation Center curator Rebecca Bose found herself on such a flight in early December, except she was present only as a chaperone, escorting red wolf M1804 to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, is already home to a pair of red wolves who were placed there in the hope that they would breed. Since they haven’t, M1804, born at the WCC 3 1/2 years ago, was flown down to take the male’s place. That male, captive-born M1565, was in turn flown back to the WCC to be paired with red wolf F1397.
The situation presented abundant potential for jokes about spring break, arranged marriages, etc., but all the humans involved knew the importance of the endeavor. The number of red wolves in the wild is less than 100, and 9 members of this federally protected species have been illegally shot and killed this past year, so maintaining or increasing the number of genetically diverse wolves is crucial. If M1804 and F1729 successfully breed, their offspring would probably be placed with wild wolves in Alligator NWR in North Carolina, where the population of wild red wolves lives.
M1804′s mission marked a continuing collaboration between the WCC and Lighthawk, a nonprofit organization of pilots devoted to mainly environmental causes. Thanks to Lighthawk and pilot Joe Howley, the WCC was able to fly M1804 down to St. Vincent NWR on short notice at no expense and make it back to the Center by the end of the day with M1565.
After being seen off from Westchester County Airport by a small group of volunteers, M1804, accompanied by Bose, the pilot’s enthusiastic family, and a couple of people doing stories about the WCC, headed south.
There are a few formalities that needed to be addressed before M1804′s release. First, he needed a bit a bling – a new radio collar that the WCC was able to sponsor. Bose was given the honor of adorning the handsome wolf with his new accessory and then releasing him into his new temporary digs, an acclimation enclosure within his soon to be territory.
When it was time for the WCC to return, they didn’t come home empty handed. WCC resident red wolf F1397 was a lone wolf for a just a handful of hours until a new gent came into town, red wolf M1565. He was released to an enclosure adjacent to F1397 so the two could get to know one another gradually, and on December 21, they were officially introduced!
Our friends from St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge will be sending us updates about the handsome New Yorker’s adventure on the wild landscape so stay tuned! As for F1397 and M1565, you’ll need not rely on us for updates, you can spy on the couple yourself via our live red wolf webcam. Let us know if you see anything interesting!