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Nine red wolves to be released in Eastern NC

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina is home to red wolves.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern North Carolina is home to red wolves.

Updated Feb. 10 at 4:45 p.m.

Nine red wolves, a critically endangered species, will be released in Eastern North Carolina in the next five to six weeks. It's the latest effort to help increase the declining population.

"We're excited about this," said Perrin de Jong, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.

Two pairs of wolves will be released in separate areas in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and a family group of five will be released in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. 

It's unclear exactly how many wolves are left in the wild, but most estimates say there are fewer than 20.

Red wolves are native to North Carolina and once inhabited the entire Southeastern United States. By the 1970s, red wolves were almost extinct because of overhunting and habitat loss, and were officially listed as endangered.

De Jong believes it's important for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to release significant numbers of wolves into the wild on an ongoing basis.

"In 2020 and 2021, [USFWS] released a total of seven wolves. Then in 2021 alone, seven wolves were killed by people," De Jong said. "You have to release enough wolves into the wild population, not just to keep up with population loss, but you have to release more wolves than that if you want to grow the population."

De Jong is involved in ongoing litigation against USFWS regarding their plans for red wolves. The agency recently re-committed to their recovery.

"We look forward to this new era of communication, transparency, and collaboration with our partners on this extremely important journey,” said Catherine Phillips, a USFWS assistant regional director, in a recent news release.

The release of these nine wolves could help establish additional breeding pairs on the landscape. There have been no known red wolf pups born in the wild since at least 2018.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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