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Baby news! NC Zoo welcomes five red wolf pups

Posted May 8, 2020 9:42 a.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2020 5:05 p.m. EDT

The North Carolina Zoo has a bit of good news to share during these unusual times: They have some baby red wolves.

The zoo announced the birth of five critically endangered American red wolves on Tuesday, April 21. The pups and mother are healthy and well, according to the zoo. There are currently only 15 to 20 red wolves found in the wild, only in eastern North Carolina, making them the most endangered canid in the world, the zoo said.

Red wolf pup born April 2020 at NC Zoo

In celebration of North Carolina, the rare pups were named after plants found in the state, according to the press release. The names for the males are Oak (Appalachian Oak), Cedar (Red Cedar) and Sage (Azure Sage). The females are named Lily (Carolina Lily, the state’s wildflower) and Aster (Piedmont Aster). This is the first litter for mom Piglet and dad Jewell, and it brings the number of red wolves in the zoo’s breeding program to 25, making it the second-largest pack in the U.S. after Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash.

The pups currently have minimal contact with staff and keeper, so Piglet can raise the pups with the least amount of stress in a more natural habitat.

“Congratulations to the North Carolina Zoo for playing an essential part toward helping this critically endangered species recover,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources, in a press release. “It’s yet another example of the zoo doing amazing work to conserve wildlife and wild places.”

Once common throughout the southeastern United States, the wolves were driven to near extinction during the late 1960s, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an aggressive conservation effort – the American Red Wolf Recovery Program – that led to new ways to track and protect the species, according to the zoo. The zoo has been part of the American Red Wolf Recovery Program since 1994 and has bred eleven pups over the past three years and 34 wolves since the program began.

The North Carolina Zoo led the successful efforts to have the American red wolf become part of the Association of Zoo and Aquariums SAFE (Saving Species From Extinction) program, according to the zoo. Under this program, the zoo leads in conserving the species and growing both the population in the wild and the animals under human care, the press release says.

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham also has red wolves, but welcomed no babies this spring. Most of the museum's extended family of red wolves were moved to a zoo in Virginia in January. Only brothers Ellerbe and Eno, who turned two last month, remain.

The NC Zoo is temporarily closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is offering virtual visits online to keep kids and families entertained.