Excitement follows the birth of red wolf puppies.
Red wolves are a critically endangered species once common to the Southeastern U.S. There’s now fewer than 300 of them alive and under four dozen of them live in the wild in Eastern North Carolina.
The North Carolina Zoo breathed a big sigh of relief when five fluffy puppies were born in April to a couple that had successfully bred before. Not only that, the puppies were born during the weekend when severe thunderstorms and a tornado swept through the Triad.
The zoo staff gave the pups—three female and two male—names to reflect their perseverance and strength in the wake of the severe weather. The pups were named Thor, Thunder, Hurricane (Cane) and Typhoon (Ty).
The fifth puppy was named Oklahoma, or Oakley, after the Oklahoma-shaped white spot on her chest.
Two of those puppies, Hurricane and Typhoon, died earlier this week, the zoo announced Friday in a Facebook post.
The puppies were humanely euthanized after they sustained traumatic injuries caused by their father.
“On Tuesday, May 29, zookeepers discovered two pups had received traumatic injuries. Zoo and veterinarian staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize them based on quality of life factors,” the post read.
Zookeepers determined the dad caused the injuries, but did not reveal what caused the parental aggression.
The pups were kept in a quiet, non-public viewing area of the zoo to minimize contact with humans and allow the mom, six-year-old Ayita, to raise the pups with the least amount of stress in a natural habitat.
The dad, named Finnick, was relocated to protect the survival of the remaining puppies, the zoo said, and veterinary staff are conducting a pathology test to assess the health of the pups at the time of death.
Parental aggression toward a litter is known to happen both in the wild and in captivity, according to the zoo.
“One of the reasons that these pups are being raised in a quiet, off-viewing area is to try and prevent this type of incident,” said Chris Lasher, animal management supervisor at the zoo and species survival plan coordinator for the wolves. “But even with these precautions, we are not always successful in preventing these types of losses that are known to occur in both the wild settings and for wolves under human care.”
Thor, Thunder and Oklahoma remain healthy and continued to be monitored by the staff.
"The North Carolina Zoo is deeply committed to red wolf conservation,” said Roger Sweeney, general curator for the zoo.
“While a setback like this is difficult for our team to experience, the three remaining pups represent an important step forward for the species," he added. "We remain focused on fighting to preserve a place for this iconic American species."
With the loss of the two pups and relocation of Finnick, the zoo’s red wolf pack now totals 21.
Once common throughout the southeastern United States, American red wolves are the most endangered canid in the world, according to the zoo. 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.
The N.C. Zoo has been part of the recovery program since 1994.
The zoo’s red wolf pack has bred nine pups over the past three years and has successfully bred 29 wolves since the program began. Currently, there are about 230 red wolves in breeding programs throughout the U.S. and an estimated 30 in the wild, found only in eastern North Carolina. Red wolves normally have three to five pups per litter.
The week before the storm pups were born at the zoo, three red wolves were born at the Durham Museum of Life and Science. But a few days later, the museum announced that one of the pups had died — not uncommon for red wolf pups so young.