Wolves are easily one of the most misunderstood species on the planet, which is why humans are their number one threat to survival. The most common response that I hear when mentioning a re-release program for Mexican Grey and Red Wolves is, “um, is that safe?” The answer is of course, YES! There have been zero documented incidents involving healthy Red or Mexican Gray wolves attacking humans. A mass of misinformation has contributed to the fear associated with wolves, and brilliant organizations like The Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri are making great strides to change that.
The Endangered Wolf Center was founded in 1971 by Marlin Perkins and his wife Carol. Marlin was a tenured director of the St. Louis Zoo and host of the first nature television show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. He and his wife saw that the wolf populations were rapidly being diminished and wanted to step in and make a difference.
The Endangered Wolf Center has saved the Mexican Grey Wolf from extinction and their population has bounced back from a wild population of only 5 to today’s estimated wild population of 114, with about 250 in managed care. This was done by pioneering a technique called cross fostering in which they selectively breed and place the new pups with a healthy pack to be raised in the wild. Every Mexican Grey Wolf in the wild today can trace their genetic roots back to The Endangered Wolf Center, and those responsible take great pride in this.
The Endangered Wolf Center also played a vital role in saving the Red Wolf from extinction as well through careful genetic selection and breeding and re-releasing into the wild. This wolf has encountered more human resistance to their conservation efforts, but the Endangered Wolf Center has helped the Red Wolf’s population jump from a pathetic 14 to 40 wolves in the wild and about 200 in managed care.
Today, the Endangered Wolf Center is home to not just wolves, but 8 species of canids including Red Wolves, Mexican Gray Wolves, African Painted Dogs, Maned Wolves, Fennec Foxes, Swift Foxes, Silver Foxes, and Arctic Foxes. Visit the website to get the backstory about each member of the canid family and in the meantime, here are some photos of each species for those who don’t know what they look like!
The study of how animals all play a vital role in their habitats and affect one another, now known as Ecology, is a fairly new branch of biology. This is part of the reason why human ignorance and misinformation has been perpetuated for years and why these canids continue to struggle. Countless times, science has proven that wolves play a vital role in their native ecosystems, as we’ve seen in their 1995 reintroduction in to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the 1987 release into the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.
After their reintroduction in Yellowstone, the wolves controlled the ungulate population so that they would no longer overgraze native plants which helped to maintain the structural integrity of river banks, as well as provide shelter and food for countless other animal species. This short video, How Wolves Changed Rivers, eloquently sums up this message of how wolves, as a keystone species, cause a positive effect down the food chain, known as a trophic cascade, and how crucial that is for the ecosystems in which they exist. Check it out and if that doesn’t inspire you, I’m not sure what will.
The red wolves of Alligator River helped significantly boost the sea turtle population by reducing the raccoon and scavenger population, which meant sea turtle eggs would no longer be over-consumed. These are things that don’t typically enter the thoughts of most people, but must be considered and appreciated when considering the reintroduction of wolves into their native habitats.
There is an optimal balance that wolves can effortlessly help to maintain so that no species becomes too over or underpopulated. Now the sea turtles have one less threat to their continued survival as a species.
There are countless other reasons that wolves NEED to be reintroduced into their native habitats and why it is so vital to support organizations like the Endangered Wolf Center that are part of a Species Survival Plan. The Endangered Wolf Center is a non-profit organization and HUGELY relies on the revenue from Preda-Tours, outreach events, children’s summer camps, and my favorite, the evening howl tour. The howl tour involves the guides howling at the wolves so that they all HOWL BACK! I can promise you, the experience of having around 30 wolves howling at you right at sunset is one that you’ll never forget. I went on a tour and was so moved by the plight of the wolves and inspired by the conservation efforts of the Endangered Wolf Center that I decided to become a volunteer! Check out the website, book a visit, and bring the kids!