Endangered red wolf illegally shot, killed in eastern NC

A red wolf at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium: About 200 red wolves live in captivity, but fewer than 40 still exist in the wild. (Photo: Seth Bynum, PDZA)

Someone has illegally shot and killed an endangered red wolf on federal land in eastern North Carolina, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced today. The wolf likely died Dec. 19; its body was found in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge on Dec. 21. The Virginian-Pilot reported the story today.

It is illegal to kill an endangered red wolf except under very limited circumstances: For example, if the wolf is threatening a person or property, such as livestock or pets. Although wolves are occasionally mistaken for coyotes, the law requires hunters to report even accidental shootings to federal or state wildlife agencies within 24 hours. In an illegal take, the shooters often remove the wolf’s radio collar, used to track her location.

Even the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which administers the red wolf program, can’t issue legal “take permits.” In September, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction to prevent the agency from allowing the legal taking of wolves. The suit was brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of wildlife preservation groups.

Federal officials reintroduced red wolves into the wild in 1987, and by 2005–2006, there were as many as 130 in six counties in eastern North Carolina, their historical habitat. However, the number of red wolves has dropped precipitously in the past several years to no more than 40, and perhaps as few as 29.

From 1987 to 2000, 15 red wolves died from gunshot wounds, an average of 1.2 per year, according to USFWS mortality data. But from 2000-2013, the number of wolves killed by gunshot increased to 73, about five per year. Three wolves died in the first six months of the year, according to USFWS figures, although the cause of death is not listed.

Federal wildlife officials are offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest for the shooting. The red wolf is protected under The Endangered Species Act. The maximum criminal penalties for the unlawful taking of a red wolf are one year imprisonment and $100,000 fine per person.

Anyone with information can contact federal wildlife officer Frank Simms at 252-216-7504 or special agent Jason Keith at 919-856-4520, ext. 34.

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