Litter of Critically Endangered Red Wolves Born in Ohio Gives Hope for Species

Eight red wolf pups were born at Ohio's Akron Zoo over the course of the day on April 22. The news bodes well for the survival of the critically endangered North American canid, Doug Piekarz, the president and chief executive officer of the zoo, said in a press release.

"This is the definition of the Akron Zoo's mission in action," he said, adding that the institution "is proud to be able to play a part in saving red wolves, in their native habitat and in zoos."

Eight red wolf pups one day old.
The eight red wolf pups shortly after birth. Red wolves, which are native to the southeastern United States, have been described as "the world's most endangered wolf." Akron Zoo

Four of the largest pups, two males and two females, were shipped to North Carolina earlier this month, where they were introduced into a wild litter. The practice, known as "cross-fostering," is intended to promote genetic diversity, according to the press release. So far, the foster mother has taken the sudden explosion in the size of her brood in stride, Elena Bell, the marketing and public relations manager of Akron Zoo, told Newsweek.

In fact, "[a]ll four pups appear to have been successfully adopted!" she said, marking the first time since 2014 that red wolf pups have been successfully cross-fostered.

The pups were microchipped before introduction to enable U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials, who orchestrated the transfer, to monitor their location. Once they are older, they will be fitted with tracking collars for the same reason.

Eight red wolf pups two weeks old.
The eight pups at two weeks of age. Akron Zoo

While their howls once rang throughout the woodlands of the southeastern United States, red wolves were nearly driven extinct in the early 20th century by the combined effects of predator control and residential development programs. One hundred years later, they are still "the world's most endangered wolf," according to the USFWS. Fewer than 20 individuals were believed to remain in the wild prior to the release of four adults on April 30 and the four pups on May 1.

If that estimate is correct, it means that the recent additions have increased the size of the non-captive population by roughly half. Both were coordinated by a partnership between the zoo, USFWS, the American Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP), the Endangered Wolf Center, the Wolf Conservation Center, and Wolf Haven International.

"This historic conservation effort was a great example of what can be accomplished when multiple entities such as the USFWS, conservation groups, nonprofits, and private companies all work together with the same goal to save an American species," Regina Mossotti, the director of animal care and conservation at the Endangered Wolf Center and the vice coordinator of the SSP, said, according to the press release.

Overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the SSP encompasses a breeding program that makes pairing recommendations based on the likelihood of a positive outcome. It is designed to ensure the conception and birth of healthy red wolves. The eight pups themselves are the fruits of an SSP-recommended union.

Speaking of which, the four that remain at the zoo, three males and one female, are thriving in a den box in a private habitat. Now several weeks old, they are "growing fast and have opened their eyes," Bell said. However, she added, their parents, first-timers Juno and Waya, remain protective.

They "are not letting them wander too far just yet," Bell said.

While off display for the time being, the pups, who do not yet have names, may begin to make appearances in the zoo's red wolf exhibit starting in June.

Update: This article has been updated to include comments and information provided by Elena Bell and photos provided by Akron Zoo.

Eight red wolf pups with eyes open.
The eight pups once their eyes opened. Akron Zoo