By Steve Lyttle
State and federal officials are asking the public’s help in finding the person responsible for fatally shooting a red wolf in northeastern North Carolina.
It is the first death of a red wolf this year but follows nine such incidents last year.
Young red wolves look a lot like coyotes, a nuisance predator that the state allows to be shot freely. Three conservation groups asked a federal court in December to stop coyote hunting in five coastal N.C. counties, saying the practice is leading to wolf killings.
The red wolf is protected under the Endangered Species Act as an experimental, nonessential population. That means landowners can kill a red wolf if it attacks livestock or pets. In addition, a person is not prosecuted for accidentally killing a wolf during a legal activity.
Officials with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they suspect the latest shooting of a red wolf did not take place under legal circumstances.
The wolf, which was wearing a radio tracking collar, was found last Tuesday in Tyrrell County, southwest of the town of Columbia.
In all, 14 wolves died last year. Three were struck by motor vehicles, one died as a result of what officials call “non-management-related actions,” and another’s death came from undetermined causes. The other nine died of gunshot wounds.
The red wolf once was common in the Southeast, but its population was nearly wiped out by predator control programs and loss of habitat.
Red wolves bred in captivity were released in 1987 in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Officials estimate about 100 wolves live in five northeastern North Carolina counties.
Anyone who accidentally kills a red wolf is required to contact the Fish and Wildlife Service at 855-496-5837 or the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission at 800-662-7137.
Anyone with information on the death of the red wolf discovered last week, or any other wolf deaths, is asked to contact Wildlife Refuge Officer Frank Simms at 252-216-7504 or N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Robert Wayne at 252-216-8225.