Monday, June 05, 2006

Rare pair fail first fling at New York refuge


LEWISBORO — A rare pair of red wolves that arrived at a sanctuary last year as part of a federally sponsored species survival plan had the local wolf warden expecting a pack of pups this spring. But for all the den digging and other "nesting" activity by the 3-year-old female in May, the mating season passed at the South Salem refuge without offspring.

Perhaps it is the newness of surroundings or youth — the male is only 2 years old — but, with the survival of the species on the line, conservationists had been hoping for a more fruitful spring.

"I'm not sure what it adds up to," says Barry Braden, managing director of the Wolf Conservation Center, who examined the female earlier this week and found she was not pregnant. "Wolves reach sexual maturity at 22 months, but that doesn't mean that he knew what to do, or that she knew what to do." Wolves in captivity have about a 30 percent chance of reproducing.

The wolf center also breeds endangered Mexican gray wolves under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Red wolves were down to 14 animals in the early 1980s, when the government began to breed them at sanctuaries such as South Salem's. Today there are 170 red wolves in 38 breeding centers, with another 100 living wild. The future of South Salem's red wolves as a breeding pair will be the subject of a conference in August. Conservationists could substitute a new partner or change the pair altogether.

"My personal feeling is they will probably give them another year," Braden said.

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