The Naturalist's CornerWritten by Don Hendershot
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Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center unveils its New Winter Speaker Series on native animals at the Folk Art Center at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6. Asheville native Warren Parker, retired chief Endangered Species Biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Service’s first national director of the Red Wolf Species Survival program, will talk about the nuts and bolts of this reintroductory program.
If there ever was a “friend in need,” Canis lupus, was (is) one. Before widespread settlement, this iconic top-of-the-food-chain predator was abundant in southern bottomland hardwood forests from the Atlantic Seaboard to central Texas and Oklahoma, northward to the Ohio River Valley. By the 1970s, because of human encroachment and persecution, the red wolf had been extirpated from all of its former range, save the bayous, cheniers and marshes of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.
The passage of the Endangered Species Act in December of 1973 gave the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service the leverage and clout to act. Parker, as chief endangered species biologist, helped orchestrate an audacious and ambitious recovery plan that called for trapping wild red wolves for a captive breeding program.
North Carolina has figured prominently in this program. A reintroductory program at Alligator River National wildlife Refuge was begun in 1987. This successful program has spilled over to other refuges and public lands in northeastern North Carolina and today between 100 and 120 red wolves — the only population of wild red wolves in the world — call North Carolina home.
The WNC Nature Center is one of only 40 captive red wolf breeding sites in the country. On Cinco de Mayo (May 5, 2009,) a red wolf pup, appropriately named Mayo, was born to Rufus and Angel, two Louisiana red wolves on loan to WNC Nature Center from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Mayo will remain at the nature center and continue to be a part of the captive breeding pool of red wolves.
This is sure to be a fascinating program about a fascinating animal by one who helped formulate and implement this groundbreaking protocol.