As if the endangered red wolves in eastern North Carolina didn't have enough to worry about—fleeting support from the federal government and a lobbying effort from politically connected landowners to remove the species—now they are being picked off by humans with guns.
A red wolf was found shot dead December 21 in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And while the government has offered a $2,500 reward for information (the Defenders of Wildlife has said it will match that figure), environmentalists and animal advocates argue the USFWS is partially to blame, as it has failed to properly protect the species, despite the existence of the now-flailing Red Wolf Recovery Program.
Ben Prater, the Defenders of Wildlife's southeast program director, called the shooting a "huge blow to the species," as there are currently fewer than forty-five red wolves remaining in the wild.
"The poaching of any wild animal is intolerable, but the intentional killing of one of the world's most endangered species is inexcusable," Prater says.
But is it? In a letter penned by nine members of Congress last month, the USFWS came under fire for, essentially, pushing North Carolina's red wolf population to the brink of extinction. The representatives—all Democrats, none from North Carolina—said the government has failed the "iconic animal" by abandoning its responsibility to protect the wolves and turning a blind eye to "suspected illegal takes, allowing local opponents of recovery to believe that they can kill wolves with impunity. Of the seventeen wolves killed by gunshot since 2013, there has not been a single prosecution."
Advocates hope that this latest incident, however, will not go unnoticed, as the shooter not only broke the law but ignored a temporary injunction issued by District Court Judge Terrence Boyle this fall that prohibits landowners from shooting the wolves. (It's possible the wolf was shot on private property and then moved to the refuge.)
In the meantime, they'll push the Cooper administration to demand that the federal government reverse recent USFWS actions that they deem detrimental: since 2012, the feds have eliminated the position of the red wolf recovery coordinator, redirected staff to other programs, ended a successful pup-fostering program and coyote sterilization efforts, and halted introductions of captive red wolves into the wild.