We went to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium on Saturday, June 10th with the goal of visiting the Red Wolf Woods Conservation area. We were there to learn more about the efforts at Point Defiance to breed and eventually release the endangered Red Wolf back into their habitats and rebuild the wild populations.
We got a huge surprise when Millie, an 8-year-old female Red Wolf, decided to allow one of her new pups to come out and catch some rays with dad, Graham. It was one of the first times any of the 6 remaining cubs (8 were born, 2 died within days of birth) came out for public viewing. They are about 1 month old, just starting to walk, and their eyes just opened. Their den is in the outdoor exhibit which is shared by the father wolf, Graham, but the den itself can’t be seen because they have that area closed off to the public for the new family’s privacy. They are so adorable! We can’t wait to see the rest of the brood but felt lucky to catch this little one.
By the 1970’s, only 14 pure Red Wolves were left in the wild worldwide. Subject to interbreeding with coyotes, habitat loss, and predator control programs, the red wolf was almost extinct. Point Defiance Zoo had begun a breeding project with the wolves in 1973, with first litter of pups born in 1977. In 1980, the few remaining wild Red Wolves were taken into captivity to protect the species from disappearing entirely.
In 1984, Point Defiance Zoo teamed up with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to come up with a long term plan to save the wolves and the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan was born. Point Defiance is one of 30 approved facilities that breed the Red Wolves to release back into the wild. Currently, there are 155 Red Wolves in captivity and over 100 in the wild. This new litter of pups will help those numbers grow as they contribute to strengthening the gene pool of this species.
In 1987, Point Defiance released the very first Red Wolf back into the wild at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. More wolves were slowly released soon after and the first litter of wild pups was born the next year. The released wolves are fitted with a radio collar so scientists can monitor their progress.
Point Defiance continues to have one of the most successful breeding programs in the country. In 2007 they won the prestigious North American Conservation Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and this new litter of pups is just one of many. While it is a great experience to see one up close, it’s even more exciting to think that these little pups may someday be reintroduced into the wild. They represent the future of a species that we have (so far) been successful in saving when on the brink of extinction.
Come and visit the Red Wolf Woods and learn about the incredible work the zoo is doing to protect these wolves. The exhibit has loads of information about the wolves and the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan. The pups should be getting more adventurous each day so the chances of seeing them are excellent.
Zoo hours are here and admission prices are here. But I highly recommend purchasing a membership. With just a few visits, it’s paid for itself and there are lots of extra benefits that come along with it. We use ours constantly. There are always some fun new activities or learning opportunities there. It’s a wonderful place for the adults to get some exercise and the kids to burn off some energy!