What's a healthy young red wolf to do to help perpetuate his critically endangered species? Fly to Florida to find a romantic partner, of course. On December 7, M1804, a three and a half year-old red wolf, will be flown by the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) to St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, a remote barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, to be introduced to a potential mate.
Born at the WCC in 2010, M1804 is one of 5 captive red wolves living there as part of its participation in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for this critically endangered canid. Currently less than 100 live in the wild, all of them in North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, while fewer than 200 are in captivity.
M1804 was selected to be paired with the female currently living in the refuge because of his genetic profile. "He's the best breeding match for her in the SSP program in terms of diversity," explained Rebecca Bose, WCC curator, "It's kind of like online dating except based almost exclusively on genetics. And of course the stakes - the survival of a species - are much higher."
It is vital that a healthy number of red wolves be maintained in the wild and captivity, especially since the species has literally come under fire recently. Nine wild red wolves have been illegally shot this year, six of them this fall. While the public can visit St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, access and usage are limited, so the pair should be free of any human threats.
The WCC will once again partner with Lighthawk, a nonprofit aviation organization devoted to environmental protection, to fly the potential Romeo to the refuge to meet F1729 who is currently one of two wolves living on the island. The other wolf, M1565 and a male that she failed to breed with, will be flown back to the WCC to live with a new potential mate.
M1804 has educated online viewers of the WCC's videos and webcams since he was a playful pup, but is now assuming his most important role. "We're excited for him because he'll get to roam around a new territory with his partner and hopefully have pups. He'll be living life the way a wolf should," commented Maggie Howell, the WCC's Executive Director, "This is precisely why we participate in the SSP program."
While M1804 may no longer be under its care, the WCC plans to help keep tabs on him by sponsoring his radio collar so that scientists can track his movements to gain valuable insights into his behavior.
There's no way to predict whether the pairing will be a love match, but it might not take long to find out. Wolves only breed in the winter, with pups born in the spring, so M1804's island sojourn may prove fruitful in just a few months. And if it doesn't? "Well, at least he'll get to enjoy warmer weather than we do," Bose said with a smile, "And there's always next breeding season. Sometimes these things take time."
Watch the WCC's educational video about the critically endangered red wolf: