By Colleen Jenkins
Conservation groups have asked a U.S. judge to halt coyote hunting in eastern North Carolina, where the endangered wild red wolves roam, arguing that the wolves, which resemble coyotes, are being killed by mistake.
The move was part of a lawsuit against the state's Wildlife Resources Commission, which authorized coyote hunting within a five-county area that is home to about 100 red wolves.
The groups argue that the hunting further threatens the wolves, which are among the world's most endangered animals. Once common in the southeastern United States, red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980, after a loss of habitat and intensive predator control programs.
After a successful zoo-based breeding program in an effort to restore their population, the wolves were released back into the wild in North Carolina.
At least five red wolves, whose coats and coloring are similar to coyotes, have been shot and killed in the state since October, according to wildlife officials.
It is illegal to kill these wolves, which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, and a reward of up to $26,000 has been offered as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation into the recent deaths.
"Mistaken identity results in red wolves getting shot," said Sierra Weaver, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
"Ending coyote hunting would be the cleanest, easiest way," to avoid those killings, she said.
The law center is seeking to block coyote hunting on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute. More....