A Comprehensive Assessment of Red Wolf Reintroduction Sites

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2018-04-24

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Abstract

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is the world’s rarest wild canid, with fewer than 60 wolves living in the wild, and likely even fewer than 40. After being declared extinct in the wild in 1980, the wolf was reintroduced to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina in 1987 and successfully established itself, with the small initial population growing to 150 within two decades. Recent increases in mortality have reduced the wolf’s numbers to their current low levels, and the Fish and Wildlife Service now faces the difficult decision of where else to reintroduce the red wolf within its historic range. This Masters Project is an attempt to analyze the current landscape of the Southeast from both an ecological and sociological perspective to determine the best possible places for red wolves to successfully establish a new population. I first conducted a literature review to identify key variables that affect the suitability of an area and found five such factors: available habitat, available prey, concentrations of livestock, recreational hunters, and the age of local residents. The reintroduction effort has to begin on federally owned and protected land, and so I next set out to select a suite of potential sites for the reintroduction to take place, establishing a list of 21 such locations. The relationship between all of the variables I considered is complex, so to properly weight them against each other I surveyed 14 experts in red wolf biology and management. I received responses from 10 of the experts and used this information to construct models in ArcGIS to determine the overall suitability of a site. After assembling a Weighted Sum model based on available data and calculating descriptive statistics, the sites all received a suitability score. The highest-scoring sites were Croatan National Forest in North Carolina and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Fish and Wildlife should focus future reintroduction efforts on these locations, which strike the best available balance between suitable ecology and low chances of human-wolf conflict.

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O'Neal, Shane (2018). A Comprehensive Assessment of Red Wolf Reintroduction Sites. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/16521.


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