Red wolf illegally killed in Tyrrell County, federal officials offer $5,000 reward for info

Red wolves are federal protected. In the wild they are found in northeastern North Carolina, part of their historical range. (Photo: Leigh Gill/USFWS)

In a muddy farm field south of Newlands Road, the red wolf lay dead. Shot in the spine, the wolf had collapsed on the field in rural Tyrrell County. During a necropsy, the animal’s lungs were found to be full of mud.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the death of the wolf, found on April 15, offering a reward of $5,000 for information that leads to the successful prosecution in this case. Anyone with information on the death of the red wolf is urged to contact North Carolina Division of Refuge Law Enforcement Patrol Captain Frank Simms at 252-216-7504 or Special Agent Jason Keith at 919-856-4786 ext. 34.

Because there are so few of them — an estimated 15 to 17 based on radio collaring data, as of last October — red wolves are federally protected in five counties: Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington.

The fate of the species has long played out in federal court, as the Red Wolf Coalition and Defenders of Wildlife sued USFWS for failing to protect them, as legally required. Last year the two groups prevailed, when a federal judge order USFWS to reinstate protections and begin reintroducing them into the wild. The groups were represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The species had already begun to rebound when the dead wolf was found. USFWS staff announced a litter of six wild red wolf pups (four females and two males) were born in mid-April. It was the first wild-born litter of red wolves since 2018.

At one time, the red wolf program marked a significant achievement for USFWS.  The agency released the first breeding pairs of red wolves into the wilds of northeastern North Carolina in 1987. By 1992, the agency had declared the experiment a success. In 2012, there were an estimated 120 wild red wolves living North Carolina.

As USFWS changed its policies on managing and protecting the wolves, the population plummeted. Under a 2018 proposal during the Trump administration, USFWS proposed shrinking the wolves’ protected area in North Carolina by 90%, limiting it to certain public lands in Hyde and Dare counties. Had that proposal become final, people could have killed the wolves in previously protected areas, which extended throughout Tyrrell, Washington and Beaufort counties.

Under the Biden administration, USFWS withdrew the proposal. The agency agreed to reintroduce the wolves in the wild and to take other steps to increase the chances the species could survive.

People can intentionally kill the wolves only to protect themselves, pets and livestock if they are in immediate danger. (If someone accidentally kills a red wolf, they must report it by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service toll-free at 1-855-4-WOLVES, 1-855-496-5837.)

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