Rare Red Wolf Shot in North Carolina Was Left Alive, Drowned in Mud

A rare red wolf was found shot in the spine and left alive to drown in the mud in North Carolina.

A necropsy of the animal, which was found in Tyrrell County, showed that its lungs were full of mud, indicating it had been severely injured by the shot but was initially still alive. It had eventually died as it lay in the muddy farm field, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.

Animal welfare campaign, Help Ashville Bears, reposted the incident to its Facebook page, and said the wolf had died a gruesome death.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it is offering a $5,000 reward for any information that would lead to "the successful prosecution" of the case.

Red wolves are critically endangered and are only found in eastern North Carolina's Albemarle Peninsula. The animals are federally protected species.

Red Wolf
A stock photo shows a red wolf. The American red wolves are critically endagered. Rejean Bedard/Getty Images

In 2018, it was ruled that killing the species would no longer be permitted unless individuals were proving a threat to human safety or a nuisance to livestock. There is no penalty for accidental killings, as these can occasionally happen when people mistake the red wolves for coyotes, which are abundant across the United States.

Red wolves differ in appearance from coyotes by having a reddish tint to their fur. If someone kills a red wolf by accident, they are obligated to report it to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service so that officials can retrieve any carcasses.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service told Newsweek that there are currently no updates on the investigation.

Now one of the most endangered canids in the world, the American red wolf used to live far across the southeast of the United States until overhunting and habitat destruction pushed them to the brink of extinction. By 1970, there were hardly any left in the wild.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deployed a captive breeding program to boost the species, by capturing the last remaining few in the wild and breeding them in captivity. They were then reintroduced to the wild.

However despite conservation efforts, there are estimated to be as few as 35 or less red wolves remaining in the wild today.

There are many threats still present to red wolves. Because of the large abundance of coyotes in their habitat, there is risk of them mating and creating hybrids. The remaining population may also come into contact with humans regularly, when they wander onto private farmlands in search of prey.