Endangered red wolves make new home at WNC Nature Center in Asheville

Karen Chávez
The Citizen-Times
The WNC Nature Center recently welcomed a pair of red wolves, Karma and Garnet, seen here. Red wolves are among the most endangered species in the world.

ASHEVILLE – A pair of red wolves, a species so endangered they are considered “scientifically extinct,” have found a home at the WNC Nature Center.

The newly relocated wolves, part of the Species Survival Plan program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, have come to Asheville, where staff hope the wolves will mate and one day produce pups that can be released into the wild, said Erin Oldread, Nature Center animal curator.

Karma arrived at the East Asheville zoo Oct. 30 from Chehaw Park in Albany, Georgia, where she was born, and Garnet arrived Nov. 28 from Reflection Riding Nature Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are both 3 years old.

“All the zoos that are AZA-accredited participate in the Species Survival Plan – it’s like online dating for red wolves,” Oldread said.  “They have a stud book keeper that keeps track of where the wolves are born, who their parents are, what their genetics are, and they pair up animals so they get good breeding.”

Hopes the move will prompt breeding

At one point, the Nature Center was home to seven red wolves, but the Species Survival Plan makes yearly recommendations on where they should be moved and how they should be bred, Oldread said.

“They wanted our pair to go to Texas and get this pair and introduce them and keep them here,” she said.”

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The pair of red wolves that recently left the Nature Center, Van and Rozene, were transferred to the Fossil Rim Nature Center in Glen Rose, Texas. The transition was recommended by the Species Survival Plan program since Van and Rozene had not yet successfully bred.

“They’re hopeful that a change of scenery might help them to be successful,” she said.

Van was born at the WNC Nature Center in 2012 and Rozene arrived in 2015 from a zoo in Missouri.

The WNC Nature Center has had 13 red wolf pups born into their care through the program.

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The survival program is designed to assist in conservation and ensure the long-term sustainability of animal populations like the red wolf. The work is critical to the red wolf, whose number in the wild have dwindled below 50 animals.

Managing the red wolf

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June solicited public comments on its proposal for managing the red wolf, which has been reduced to a single wild population in eastern North Carolina.

The wildlife service proposed to reduce the red wolf recovery area by more than 90 percent, with the revised recovery area only expected to provide sufficient space for 10 to 15 red wolves to safely roam.

Red wolves, like the one seen here at the WNC Nature Center, are a federally endangered species.

The proposal would eliminate protections for any red wolves that wander off Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Dare County Bombing Range, effectively allowing anyone to kill red wolves on private lands, for any reason, according to the Wildlands Network, a wildlife conservation group.

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The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina found in November that the Fish and Wildlife Service had violated the Endangered Species Act in its management of the recovery program for red wolves.

The agency announced a delay of the proposed rule for red wolves because of that ruling.

“The federal court found that the Fish and Wildlife Service has been mismanaging the red wolf program for the past four years and has violated the Endangered Species Act,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Southeast Program Director Ben Prater, who is based in Asheville.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service should throw out its contested plan for red wolves and instead fulfill its duties by conserving the species, taking concrete steps to protect this species and charting a path towards recovery. Red wolves need help now,” Prater said.

The red wolf is so endangered, there are fewer than 50 known individuals in the wild in the world today.

Visitors to the Nature Center might get a peek at Karma, the female wolf, who is in a viewable habitat now, Oldread said. However, Garnet is currently in a habitat that cannot be seen by the public. 

“Our plans are to introduce them in January after quarantine is over and then they will be together on the habitat that can be viewed by guests. We are still learning their behavior. Currently, because they are new, they are both spending a lot of time in their boxes where they feel secure. I think as they get more comfortable they will start to come out more often.”


Most of the Nature Center animals are active at dusk and dawn. The WNC Nature Center, 75 Gashes Creek Road, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 828-259-8080 or visit www.wncnaturecenter.com/.