Durham News

Rare red wolf dies at Museum of Life and Science

The museum’s red wolves can be hard to spot in their nearly half-acre enclosure as their reddish-brown fur melts into the rocks and foliage.
The museum’s red wolves can be hard to spot in their nearly half-acre enclosure as their reddish-brown fur melts into the rocks and foliage. Museum of Life and Science

One of two endangered red wolves at the Musem of of Life and Scence was euthanized this week after the wolf went into shock with a twisted stomach and bowel.

The 9-year-old wolf, known by his studbook number 1414, was euthanized Tuesday afternoon.

“Everything was going as planned for (his) annual physical, however, we had concerns about his abdomen distention during the exam,” Animal Department Director Sherry Samuels said.

The condition, Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, commonly called bloat, is an extreme emergency. It’s what killed the dog in “Marley & Me,” the movie and book based on the true story of newspaper columnist John Grogan’s yellow Lab with a voracious appetite.

Wolf 1414 deteriorated rapidly.

By the time he got to the Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas on N.C. 751, he was in shock.

“The stomach twists, flips over on its long axis and constricts the blood supply to everythng that comes behind that,” said Dr. Debbie Vanderford, the museum’s consulting veterinarian. “Everything in the gut is essentially robbed of its blood supply. When that happens it’s like a ball rolling downhill.”

In dogs, owners can sometimes spot an animal in trouble in time for surgery.

“Wolves won’t do that,” Vanderford said. “They’re wild animals, and they won’t make themselves vulnerable. A normal wild animal will hide every sign of pain and distress.”

Wolf 1414 was born in Tacoma, Wash., in 2005 and arrived at the Museum of Life and Science in November 2012 from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Ill., where he sired three litters.

At 9, he could have sired more pups. Red wolves typically live 9 to 12 years in captivity.

The museum’s female wolf is 11 years old and has irritable bowel disease that the museum can no longer manage, Samuels said. She too could be euthanized if her quality of life worsens.

“Our red wolves are a beloved part of the museum’s family,” Samuels said. “This is a tough loss for staff and visitors alike, as well as for the recovery program.”

Near extinction

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids.

The species was hunted to near extinction and declared endangered in 1967. Biologists captured 17 of the last wolves in the wild and put 14 into a captive breeding program. In 1980 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the species extinct in the wild.

The museum on Durham’s Murray Avenue is one of 44 institutions cooperating in a Species Survival Plan, in which captive wolves are shared and moved around the country to ensure the best chance for healthy offspring.

“It’s not just about making more babies,” Samuels said. “It’s about making the genetically best offspring to help the species survive. The species is so inbred we have to be scientific and diligent about how we make the (breeding) pairs.”

The first red wolves born in captivity happened in 1977, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. A restoration program on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina began a decade later and has since expanded to three national wildlife refuges and other public and private lands totaling 1.7 million acres.

Today there are about 300 red wolves: 200 in captivity and 100 in the wild, where they face threats from cars, hunters, and interbreeding with smaller and similar-looking coyotes.

New pair coming

The Museum of Life and Science has had two litters: seven puppies in 1993 and six puppies, one of which died the next day, in 2000.

On Thursday, Will Waddell, the Species Survival Plan coordinator, said he hopes to identify a new breeding pair this coming week and move them to Durham before the Feburary-March breeding season.

Rather than transfer adult captive wolves, the survival program occasionally inserts captive-born pups into wild litters at 10 to 14 days of age to get the mothers to adopt them and help stabilize wild packs.

“It’s generally successful,’’ Waddell said. The number of captive pairs that are bred varies from year to year.

The museum’s red wolves live in a wooded, roughly half-acre enclosure meant to resemble their natural home.

They can be hard to spot as their reddish-brown fur melts into the rocks and foliage, but Samuels said that’s the idea.

The exhibit, part of the 6-acre Explore the Wild habitat, “is meant to put you in the shoes of a wildlife biologist.”