Seeing more red

10:38 pm June 4th, 2012

The population of the endangered red wolf got a boost in Pierce County this month with the birth in a one-week period of 15 pups, the majority of them in the Eatonville area. Over an approximately 30-hour period May 13-14, Millie, an 8-year-old red wolf at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, became the mother of eight pups, one of which died a few days later. Each weighed about 13 ounces at birth, zoo officials reported. Although they are the first red wolves born at the zoo in Tacoma in 29 years, the zoo’s breeding program has produced hundreds of pups at off-site breeding facilities since its inception. That includes nine – seven females and two males – that were born May 7 on property at Northwest Trek near Eatonville. The mother is named Lupin. Two of Millie’s pups died within a week of being born, a rate that isn’t uncommon in the animal kingdom, officials said. A sixth is being treated at the zoo for a leg injury. But all the other new arrivals and their mothers are doing well, officials said last week. The births were another milestone in an effort started by the zoo in 1973 to help save the fragile species from extinction. The first litter of pups produced in the program was born in 1977. By the 1970s, only 14 animals remained from the red wolf species that at its most populous extended across southeastern United States. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the red wolf biologically extinct in the wild. But now, about 100 – including 40 born this year – roam the Red Wolf Recovery Area operated by the federal agency in northeastern North Carolina. All are descendants of animals born through the breeding and recovery program. Despite the rebound, the species remains threatened by environmental and human factors, according to biologists. Millie whelped her new litter of pups in an out-of-view part of a den at Point Defiance Zoo’s red wolf exhibit, beginning at about 10 p.m. May 13 – Mothers Day. Officials said the newborns will probably emerge from the den and begin frequenting the public viewing area about four weeks after their birth. Before then, a closed-circuit camera may allow zoo visitors to view the new family. Millie is an attentive and protective mother, said Will Waddell, the zoo’s red wolf program coordinator. He also manages the nationwide red wolf survival plan and is part of the Red Wolf Recovery Team. General curator Karen Goodrowe Beck, a reproductive adviser for the survival plan, said the births are providing “an opportunity for our visitors to connect with this species and for all of us to aid in their conservation.” She said the animals “have settled well into their new home.” Red wolves bred in the program were first reintroduced to the wild 25 years ago. This month’s births “will help us highlight the ongoing efforts to conserve red wolves and the challenges these animals continue to face in the wild,” Waddell said. The breeding and recovery program is a cooperative effort among 41 zoos and wildlife centers in the U.S. and the national Fish and Wildlife Service. The participating facilities have approximately 196 adults and juveniles, including 37 pups born in nine litters this spring. David Rabon, Fish and Wildlife’s coordinator of the recovery effort nationally, said the work of Point Defiance Zoo and other partners in the program are “crucial in preventing the extinction of the red wolf.” In addition to Waddell and Beck, the zoo’s staff members who work closely with the program include Dr. Holly Reed as a veterinary adviser, and visitor studies coordinator Craig Standridge as the education adviser. The recovery program “is living proof that zoo-based breeding programs can bring a species back from the brink of extinction,” said John Houck, Point Defiance’s deputy director. The zoo is a division of Metro Parks Tacoma, which also operates Northwest Trek near Eatonville.

This red wolf named Millie gave birth at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium a week after other pups were born near Eatonville. (Metro Parks/courtesy photo)

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