Court Protects World’s Only Wild Red Wolves from Deadly Mistaken Identity

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(RALEIGH, N.C.)— A federal court late yesterday issued a preliminary injunction against the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission’s authorization of coyote hunting—including by spotlight at night-- in the five county area of eastern North Carolina inhabited by the world’s only wild population of about 100 red wolves. Gunshot is the leading cause of death for the animals. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the motion for emergency relief in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

“Today’s decision provides the thoughtful, balanced approach to red wolf conservation that we hoped for,” said Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups. “As the court found today, coyote hunting is causing more harm than good to both red wolf conservation and coyote control efforts. Today’s ruling is good for red wolves, and good for landowners.”

Red wolves and coyotes are similar in appearance so red wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes, even in daylight. 

“The Red Wolf Coalition is hopeful that the court’s decision will be a roadmap for stakeholders to work together for red wolf conservation,” said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition.  

Since January 2008, 50 endangered red wolves died from confirmed or suspected gunshot. Since 2012, five shooters who killed red wolves reported to authorities that they had mistaken the wolves for coyotes.

By authorizing the shooting of coyotes within the Red Wolf Recovery Area, the commission is causing unlawful take (i.e., harass, harm, hunt, or kill) of the red wolf. In July 2013, the law center notified the commission that it was in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing hunting of coyotes within the Red Wolf Recovery Area and the groups would file a federal enforcement action unless the commission took steps to protect the wolves.  After six red wolves were shot and killed in a six week period last fall, the law center asked the court for an emergency ban on coyote hunting in the recovery area.

"This is great news for the red wolf," said Tara Zuardo, Wildlife Attorney with the Animal Welfare Institute. "Now we need to ensure that red wolves have a future in North Carolina, where they won't be indiscriminately killed, and will be given a chance to recover."

As of July 26, 2013, the commission 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 in July, a temporary rule that legalized spot light hunting of coyotes at night in North Carolina was in effect from August 2012 until November 2012 when it was suspended by Wake County Superior Court in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, and Defenders of Wildlife.

To prevent wolves interbreeding with coyotes—another threat to the wolf population—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes that have territories within red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes also harms the native red wolf population by undermining effective coyote population control efforts.

“It's a great day for red wolf conservation in the southeast. Coyote hunting in the red wolf recovery area posed a serious threat to these extremely rare animals,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “Today's ruling adds an important layer of protection that will greatly help their continued recovery. “

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 1980’s after red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat eliminated wild red wolf populations.

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Press contact: Haley McKey, hmckey@defenders.org, (202)772-0247

A photographic comparison of a red wolf and coyote can be viewed at: http://www.southernenvironment.org/images/photos/Red%20wolves/red_wolf_c...

Photographs of red wolves in North Carolina are available for use with appropriate photo credit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/media.html

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

About the Red Wolf Coalition
The Red Wolf Coalition (www.redwolves.com) advocates for the long-term survival of red wolf populations by teaching about the red wolf and by fostering public involvement in red wolf conservation.

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people.  AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

About Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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