The population of critically endangered Red wolves gained another eight fluffy puppies born in a Tennessee zoo last week, the zoo announced Friday.
The puppies — 5 males and 3 females — were born May 10 to first-time parents, Leah and T.O. They haven’t opened their eyes yet, but they’re growing and gaining weight, Zoo Knoxville announced on Facebook.
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“Zoo staff are checking and weighing the pups regularly,” the zoo wrote. “They are steadily gaining weight and appear to be healthy and thriving.”
Red wolves were once common in the Southeastern U.S., but in the 1960s habitat loss and human persecution took them near extinction, the zoo said.
There’s about 40 wolves left in the wild and they live in Eastern North Carolina, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At least 200 wolves live in zoos across the country in breeding programs.
Five red wolf puppies were born at North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro the in the midst of severe thunderstorms and a tornado April 15.
Then, the Durham Museum of Life and Science welcomed three puppies, born on April 21. A week later, the only female puppy of the litter died, which is not uncommon during those first few weeks of life.
Knoxville’s litter of eight is “surprising and exciting,” the Zoo said, since a litter of three to four puppies is more common.
The zoo hasn’t given names to the puppies yet.
The puppies will remain in the den with their mom, Leah, for about another month.
“Once they make it past that 30-day mark, those odds of them surviving to adulthood go way up,” said Kelly Cox, assistant director of animal care and conservation at Zoo Knoxville.
“And so once we get past that 30-day mark, we’re all going to breathe a little easier and feel like we’ve got ourselves a healthy population.”