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Day Two of Red Wolf Week: The Captive-to-Wild Foster Program

 1-day-old pup born at the WCC in 2010

The red wolf is one of the most rare mammals in North America.  About 130 red wolves roam their native habitat in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in  northeastern North Carolina and approximately 200 comprise the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP) in facilities across the United States.  As a participant of the RWSSP, the WCC is thrilled to be home to six red wolves with two breeding pairs. We are especially excited to be hosting red wolves that were selected to breed because there is a chance that some of their potential pups will be given the opportunity of a lifetime – a future in their ancestral home in the wilds of North Carolina!  The Red Wolf Recovery Plan employs a pup fostering program to introduce captive red wolves into the wild.  Adult captive red wolves are not candidates for release.

Captive-to-wild fostering is a coordinated effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Red Wolf Recovery Program, and the RWSSP. Fostering is a method which allows genetically valuable captive-born red wolf pups to become integrated into the wild red wolf population.   The pup-fostering method has been extremely successful for nearly a decade, this video from the North Carolina Zoo depicts the first ever foster event from 2002!
Every spring, red wolf field biologists in North Carolina listen for the whines and peeps of wild red wolf pups as they search for dens. When biologists locate dens, each pup is counted and tagged and blood samples are collected before the pup is carefully returned. Some of these dens will serve as the foster home for captive born red wolf pups.  

As soon as captive red wolves are born at the any of the participating RWSSP facilities, the host organization alerts the field biologists of their great news.  If the captive born litter is robust and the date of births match those of wild red wolves, a couple of  7 to10-day-old pups (number of pups depends on the size of the litter) are removed from the litter  and transferred to North Carolina. Ideally, each year a few captive born pups are blessed with this opportunity and are embraced by their wild foster parents. The pups then develop in the wild and thus gain survival skills required to mature and reproduce.

Red wolf pup from the Lincoln Park Zoo
Last year red wolves from Lincoln Park Zoo received the call of the wild!  In late April of 2010, two newborn red wolf pups were flown from the Lincoln Park Zoo to North Carolina and placed inside the den belonging to wild red wolves who were nursing their own small litter. 
Thanks to our WOLFCAM, we saw some very encouraging breeding behavior between red wolves F1397 and M1483  and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the WCC will also be able to contribute to the wild red wolf population with some pups later this spring!