WheelHouse Artist Sabra Crockett work freaquently references ecological and environmental issues, and humankind's impact on nature. Her work addresses the challenges and celebrates the successes of wildlife whose existence has been threatened by habitat loss.
We recently Sabra with Heather Caldwell, who works at a North Carolina nature center that hosts an active red wolf breeding and release program. Below is the conversation between Sabra and Heather:
SABRA CROCKETT: What was the original range of red wolves before the 1900s?
HEATHER CALDWELL: Red wolves used to roam throughout the eastern seaboard from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas. Today, North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula is home to the only confirmed wild red wolves in existence.
SC: Do you think introducing red wolves to the wild would help balance out the ecosystem, like what has been documented with the gray wolves?
HC: Without a doubt. An introduction would make for a healthier deer and coyote population as well as reducing those species’ numbers to an appropriate amount. The presence of apex predators will always make for a more balanced and healthier ecosystem.
SC: I know nutria are a huge problem in the Southern states. They eat tons of wetland flora, which is causing mass flooding. Would red wolves become a natural predator for nutria, or other prey that's over in abundance?
HC: Although no official studies have been conducted to quantify this, the wolves’ preference for nuisance species, like nutria and raccoons, helps to reduce damage to crops and other human activities.
SC: How many red wolves are left in captivity, and how many are in the wild?
HC: Population estimates as of August 2023: Known/collared (wild): 13. Total estimate (wild): 23-25. Red Wolf SAFE (captive): 269.
SC: What is the difference between red wolves and coyotes? Is it easy to tell them apart by looking at them?
HC: They look very similar, especially at a distance. Despite their name, they come in many of the same colors as coyotes: brown, buff, tan, gray, reddish brown, and a variety of combinations. Adult red wolves are taller, longer, and heavier than coyotes, but in the summer and fall, their pups are similar in size to coyotes. Coyote Height (at shoulder) 22 inches, red wolf height is 26 inches. Length (tip of nose to base of tail) of coyote is 3 feet, red wolf is 4 feet. Coyotes weigh 35-55 pounds and red wolves 50-80 pounds. Coyotes have a pointer face than red wolves, but again they look very similar.
SC: When did … breeding program[s] start?
HC: The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enacted as federal law and the USFWS officially began implementation of the Red Wolf Recovery Plan. From 1973-1980, the Service began trapping wild canids in the area to prevent extinction of the species and establish a captive breeding program with the intention of reintroducing the species in the wild.
SC: How many red wolves do you have?
HC: As of February 2023, there are approximately 235 red wolves in 49 Red Wolf SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) facilities across the country. The list of facilities can be found on the Red Wolf Coalition website.
SC: How many have been reintroduced into the wild?
HC: Approximately 120 since 1987. [based on data from fws.gov.]
SC: What are the challenges you face with your program? What are your successes?
HC: The biggest threat to the red wolves is humans. People have always been afraid of wolves or seen them as a nuisance because they will prey on livestock, so convincing the general public to release them into the wild has always had a lot of push back. Because red wolves look so similar to coyotes they are often shot based on mistaken identity. Habit loss is another challenge and has contributed to a lot of wolves dying by vehicle strike. Also, because coyote populations are thriving and red wolf populations are not, the red wolves will often breed with coyotes out of necessity, but this dilutes their pure blood lines. If there was a large, healthy red wolf population this would not be the case as the red wolves would be able to establish and enforce their own territory.
The successes are that the red wolf’s population still exists, although it is fragile. As long as they are still here and have organizations to advocate for them there is a chance of total recovery.
SC: How can we learn more about your program, and how can we help?
HC: The Red Wolf Coalition is the only organization working directly with FWS. This would be a great place to donate to. Their website and the Fish and Wildlife website are great places for information. North Carolina Wildlife Federation is also a partner and would be a good place to learn more or donate... Another way to help is raising awareness in your own community, telling friends and family about the plight of the red wolves. Not many people know that this magical creature is the most endangered wolf on the planet or that there are so few left in the wild and only reside in the wild on the NC coast.
ENJOY READING THIS Q & A WITH SABRA?
Check out 10 Questions with Sabra Crockett where she answers questions from WheelHouse Art about life & art.