CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— A motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the unlawful killing of highly endangered red wolves caused by hunting in the Red Wolf Recovery area in North Carolina was filed on Monday, December 16, 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute, Red Wolf Coalition, and Defenders of Wildlife. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed the motion and supporting memorandum on behalf of the organizations.
North Carolina is home to the world’s only wild population of red wolves. Red wolves bred in captivity were reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980s after they were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat eliminated wild red wolf populations.
As of July 26, 2013, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) has authorized coyote hunting both during the day and at night with artificial spotlights within the Red Wolf Recovery Area. Prior to this permanent regulation going into effect, a temporary rule that legalized spotlight hunting of coyotes at night in North Carolina was in effect from August 2012 until November 2012, when it was suspended by the Wake County Superior Court in a lawsuit brought by SELC on behalf of the present plaintiffs.
Red wolves and coyotes are very similar in appearance, and red wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes, even in daylight. In 2013 alone, 14 wolves have been found dead, at least 9 due to suspected gunshot wounds. Gunshot deaths have caused a loss of up to 10 percent of the wild population, and left no breeding pairs in at least two of the five counties within the recovery area.
In October, SELC filed a case complaint challenging the NCWRC’s decision to authorize the shooting of coyotes within the recovery area on the grounds that the NCWRC’s action is causing unlawful take (i.e., harassment, harm, hunting, or killing) of the red wolf in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
“The North Carolina Wildlife Commission has given the green light to activities which have led directly to the decimation of the only wild population of North America’s rarest wolf,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney with AWI. “If this activity is not halted, it is difficult to see how any sort of recovery can be sustained.”
To prevent wolves interbreeding with coyotes—another threat to the wolf population—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes who have territories within red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes also harms the native red wolf population by undermining effective coyote population control efforts.