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Red Wolves on the Brink


Mike ArcherRed wolves once roamed the southeastern United States, but with less than 50 remaining in the wild according to the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), the red wolves at the Tallahassee Museum are important contributors to a research and recovery project that seeks to bring the native species back from the brink of extinction.

The four wolves at the Museum (or the two pairs) are among the 200 red wolves maintained at several dozen facilities across the United States under the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), a joint effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, various state agencies, zoos and other stakeholders to better understand the lives of these smaller, slender cousins of the gray wolf.

A participant in the Red Wolf SSP since 1988, the Tallahassee Museum does much more than feed and observe the red wolves. Its staff recently worked with Red Wolf SSP Coordinator Will Waddell and Dr. Ashley Franklin, a postdoctoral research fellow from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., to collect semen samples for research on the wolves’ sperm quality. Museum veterinarian Dr. David Hale administered the anesthesia and assisted with the procedure. 

The samples will be evaluated to determine the wolves’ fertility, then frozen and added to the genome resource bank for red wolves, with the possibility for future use in the artificial insemination of red wolf females.

Mike Archer (1)The Museum’s red wolves are also involved in testing for stress hormones in their digestive tracts to assess how life in captivity affects their stress levels. Museum staff collect fecal samples from each red wolf daily and ship them to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute laboratory for analysis. Researchers look for genetic variants believed to be linked to stress hormones that cause maladies and other physiological traits. These variants have been identified in several family lines of red wolves.

This research will help identify and reduce stressful conditions in the wolves’ environment and address problems ranging from digestive disease to reproductive and behavioral problems.

For more information about the Red Wolf Recovery Program, visit: http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/