T. DeLene Beeland, the author of “The Secret World of Red Wolves,” was the featured guest at the Endangered Wolf Center Speaker Series on Monday, Oct. 13. She shared insights and answered questions about this endangered species of wolf that once roamed in Missouri and Illinois.
Beeland updated the audience on the status of red wolves.
As red wolf numbers declined in the 1970s, the final ones were captured in a four-county region in Louisiana and Texas, Beeland said. Of the 17 animals deemed to be pure red wolves (excluding those that had bred with coyotes), only nine males and five females were capable of breeding.
Now, there are 60 to 65 collared wolves in the wild, perhaps 90 to 110 overall in the wild, and an additional 200 to 250 in managed breeding programs, she said.
She gave more distressing numbers on breeding pairs. The Red Wolf Recovery Program started with two breeding pairs in September 1987, the first predator release in the United States. After five years, the number climbed to five breeding pairs and grew to 21 pairs in 2003. By 2010, it declined to 13, and this year is at seven, Beeland said.
She attributed the decline in breeding pairs to what she termed “the twin threats” of illegal killing by humans and hybridization with coyotes. She noted a relationship between those threats, saying that the surviving mates of slain wolves are more likely than other red wolves to hybridize with coyotes.
She read a passage from her book about the extinction dates of red wolves in various states. In Missouri, she said, the last red wolf was fatally shot in Oregon County in 1942.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is conducting a rapid 60-day review of the program that manages red wolves in the wild. Results of the review will be used to make key decisions that may determine the fate of wild red wolves.
Beeland is a nature and science writer who lives in Asheville, N.C., not far from the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. She holds a master of science in interdisciplinary ecology. She says she enjoys using her writing as a lens through which to learn about the natural world.
After her talk, she autographed copies of her book, which was sold in the Celeste Ruwwe Gift Shop at a discounted price.
In “The Secret World of Red Wolves,” Beeland shadows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s pioneering recovery program over the course of a year to craft an intimate portrait of the red wolf, its history and its restoration. Her engaging exploration of this top-level predator traces the intense effort of conservation personnel to save a species that has slipped to the verge of extinction.
Beeland weaves together the voices of scientists, conservationists, and local landowners while posing larger questions about human coexistence with red wolves, our understanding of what defines this animal as a distinct species, and how climate change may swamp its current habitat.
“Having the opportunity to create this book was a gift,” she said. “It fills a gaping void in the literature of wild canids. By bringing together in one place the many disparate aspects of red wolf research, management, and field work, readers are transported into the history and landscape where red wolves roam.”