Red Wolf

A litter of five red wolf pups were born recently at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro.

Animal lovers were no doubt pleased to hear the announcement about the five new red wolf pups born in the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro on April 21. Three are males and two females; they and their mother, named Piglet, are all healthy.

The father, Jewell, also seems to be fine.

How’s that for some cheer?

The five pups were named after North Carolina native plants: The males are Oak (Appalachian Oak), Cedar (Red Cedar) and Sage (Azure Sage). The females are Lily (Carolina Lily, the state’s wildflower) and Aster (Piedmont Aster). The pups bring the number of red wolves in the zoo’s breeding program to 25 — the second-largest pack in the nation, after a zoo in Tacoma, Wash.

They’ll grow in the safety of the zoo grounds where they’ll have minimal contact with people. At some point, some of them may be released into the wild to bolster the wild red wolf population that lives in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.

The zoo has been an integral part of the American Red Wolf Recovery program since 1994, breeding 11 pups over the past three years and 34 wolves total.

Thousands of red wolves once occupied much of the eastern U.S., from Pennsylvania to Florida, but they were added to the endangered species list in 1967 after being driven to near-extinction. Over the years they’ve faced opposition from farmers and ranchers who feared the wolves would decimate their livestock; from hunters who found them to be a challenging target; and from coyotes, which compete with them for resources.

Today the range of wild red wolves is limited to five counties in eastern North Carolina. Despite recovery efforts, the wild population may have dropped from about 120-130 in 2006 to as few as 14 now.

Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to commit to a deadline for a new recovery plan after efforts seemed to have slacked off. Gov. Roy Cooper also sent the Fish and Wildlife Service a sternly worded letter urging the department to become more responsive to the animals’ needs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a statement in November saying it plans to begin updating the recovery plan in 2020 by appointing a panel of scientists to advise them on the process.

As with so many issues today, there are competing views on the value of protecting red wolves. Some see the pretty fur and bright eyes; some see the wolves’ role as an essential part of a balanced environment; some see a displeasing drain of tax dollars; others yet see a nuisance to their industries.

Among other erosions of animal protections, the Trump administration last year changed the way the Endangered Species Act is applied, making it easier to remove a species from the endangered list and weakening protections for threatened species.

For now, conservationists and animal-rights activists are winning the fight to keep the red wolves alive and thriving, to the delight of many who would prefer we humans be stewards rather than exploiters of the world that’s been placed at our feet. But it’s a constant struggle.

Contact Bobby Burns at baburns@reflector.com and 329.9572.

Today’s editorial is from the Winston-Salem Journal. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.