Red wolves may have something to howl about very soon. The Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina announced Tuesday that its female red wolf may be expecting a litter of pups!
According to museum staff, the female wolf (named 1287), has been showing signs of pregnancy. Recently, she has been digging more than normal, burying food, and removing areas of belly hair—a common preparation for nursing.
Once ranging throughout the southeastern U.S. from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas, habitat destruction and extermination nearly brought red wolves to extinction by 1980. Now, thanks to captive breeding programs and reintroduction to a restoration area in North Carolina, the species is slowly making a comeback.
A new wolf litter–between two to nine pups–would be a huge benefit to the fragile population of only 300 wolves (captive and wild combined). The parents of this potential litter have desirable genes that scientists want to keep in the mix. Creating diversity in the gene pool is extremely important to the survival of such a critically endangered species as the red wolf.
Even though this potential pregnancy is taking place in captivity, a new litter can still benefit wild wolves. Occasionally, captive pups can be introduced to wild wolf litters. And since interbreeding with coyotes has become the most significant threat to recovery in their native habitat, captive breeding programs are essential to a successful red wolf comeback.
Get more information on captive breeding of red wolves from the Red Wolf Coalition.