Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Lone Oglebay red wolf pup heads south

THE LONE female red wolf born at the Good Zoo at Oglebay in late April is being raised by a wild wolf mother in North Carolina.

"Our pup has been accepted by its foster mother and is doing well," said Joe Greathouse, animal curator at the Good Zoo. "The red wolf recovery program has given our zoo the wonderful responsibility of assisting in the preservation of this endangered species, and the cross-fostering of this pup to a wild mother has been an incredible opportunity for us to contribute to the conservation of this magnificent species in the wild as well."
Will Waddell, the red wolf breeding program coordinator for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) and wildlife biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, determined that the pup born at Oglebay would be an ideal candidate to be fostered by a wild female red wolf for release into the wild. The biologists had been observing a wild red wolf with a small litter of her own and made the recommendation in early May that this wild female red wolf would be an appropriate foster mother.

Waddell said that for these important release projects, the biologists choose wild mothers that have stable territories, have proven their success in raising pups in the past, and have relatively small litters during the year any zoo pups are added to their litter.

The pup was transported by the Oglebay zoo staff in mid-May to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. Greathouse said the pup was bottle-fed a canine milk replacement formula by zoo staff twice on the long trip to North Carolina to ensure that she would be well nourished upon arrival.

"The biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service had radio-tracked the mother wolf and located her den and her 3 pups prior to my arrival," said Greathouse. "Our pup was then equipped with an electronic identification tag and marked with the scent of one of the wild pups before she was placed into her new den."

"The pup born at Oglebay is very important to the Red Wolf Recovery Program, because it represents the possibility of enhancing the genetic diversity of the wild population when she is old enough to breed and produce pups of her own, " added Waddell.

"Cross-fostering the Oglebay pup to a wild mother is important to the endangered species recovery program for two reasons," said Chris Lucash, Red Wolf Recovery Program Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It is the most efficient method of incorporating new genes into the wild population, because not all of the bloodlines of the original red wolves that were placed in zoos are equally represented in the wild population. Past efforts to release adult or juvenile captive-raised red wolves proved to be very risky for the individual animal and damaging to the public's perception of what a wild wolf should act like. Cross-fostering pups born in zoos to wild mothers helps ensure that the released animals are instilled with the wild behaviors that will be necessary for the success of the wolf in the wild."

In the days following the release of the pup, the mother was radio-tracked multiple times to ensure that she was taking care of the Oglebay pup.

The biologists discovered that she had moved the pups to two new dens, a practice common amongst wild red wolf mothers, and each time, that the biologists checked on the pups, the Oglebay pup was found with the wild pups and was in good health. The biologists will continue to track the mother now from a distance with radio-tracking equipment, but they will have little additional contact with the pups now to ensure that they maintain their wild behaviors. Biologists will attempt to locate the Oglebay pup again in six to seven months to equip her with her own radio-tracking collar, so they will be able to monitor her location on a weekly basis as she becomes a wild adult wolf.

The last remaining 17 wild red wolves were captured from the wild in the 1970's and brought to zoos for breeding. The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but zoo-born red wolves have since been successfully released back into the wild. There are approximately 100 wild red wolves living at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

There have been a total of 22 red wolf pups born at The Good Zoo since 1988. There are only 135 red wolves in just 37 North American zoos.

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