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ZooBorns strives to highlight the ways animals born at accredited zoos and aquariums can directly support vital conservation programs in the wild. Perhaps no effort better illustrates this than the Red Wolf Recovery Program, for which the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is the flagship breeding facility.

Hunted, poisoned and cut off from natural habitat, Red Wolves were formally declared extinct in the wild after biologists captured the remaining 17 wolves in the 1970s for an ambitious new pilot breeding program. Remarkably, 14 of the those wolves bred in captivity and by 1987 enough pups had been born for the US Fish & Wildlife to attempt reintroduction efforts.

Today over 100 Red Wolves roam their native habitats in northeastern North Carolina. While this a far cry from the tens of thousands that once ranged from New England to Florida, it still represents a tremendous success, marking the first time a predator population has been rebuilt in the wild after being declared extinct in the wild.



On May 14, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium staff were delighted to welcome 8 critically endangered Red Wolf pups to mother Millie, an 8-year-old female, and father 9-year-old Graham. Millie is an attentive and protective mother, said Will Waddell, the zoo’s Red Wolf program coordinator, who also manages the nationwide Red Wolf Species Survival Plan and is part of the Red Wolf Recovery Team. 

While these pups are first born on zoo grounds in 29 years, the program has produced hundreds of pups at off-site breeding facilities since its inception.



Zoo staff are working on a closed-circuit camera feed of Millie and her pups in their den so they might be viewable by the media and the public. They likely will come out of their den and into the exhibit in three to four weeks – a purely voluntary action – Waddell said.

470789_10150826218914624_125282134623_9734552_398132010_oPhoto credits: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Learn more about the Point Defiance Zoo's leadership in the Red Wolf Recovery Program and visit the program's official US FIsh & Wildlife page. For more info and photos, continue reading after the jump.


The births in the 2-year-old  Red Wolf Woods exhibit were the second in a week for the Point Defiance Zoo program. A female named Lupin bore nine pups May 7 at an off-site breeding facility near Eatonville. They include seven females and two males. All are doing well, Waddell said.

Point Defiance Zoo biologists, many of whom have worked for years to ensure survival of the Red Wolf species, are delighted with the births and point to nearly four decades of success in the breeding and recovery effort. 

Not only are they proud surrogate “parents,” they point out the births will put a spotlight on a program that’s a true success story in animal population breeding and recovery.  

The first litter of pups in the Red Wolf recovery program was born at the zoo in 1977; this year marks the 35th anniversary of that event. Those births were the watershed moment in the recovery of the species

They were first reintroduced to the wild 25 years ago. “The pups born over the last week help shine a spotlight on this program so crucial to the survival of the Red Wolf,”  Waddell said. “The births will help us highlight the ongoing efforts to conserve Red Wolves and the challenges these animals continue to face in the wild.” 



The breeding and recovery program is a cooperative effort among 41 U.S. zoos and wildlife centers and the Fish & Wildlife Service. It is part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan.There are approximately 196 adults and juveniles at the cooperating facilities, including 37 pups born in nine litters this spring.

“For nearly 40 years, PDZA has led dedicated SSP partners in the breeding of Red Wolves in zoos and wildlife centers,” said David Rabon, coordinator of the Red Wolf Recovery Program for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

“Their leadership and contribution, as well as that of all of the SSP facilities, has been crucial in preventing the extinction of the Red Wolf.” 

The zoo’s leadership has been extensive and unwavering through the years.

Zoo veterinarian Dr. Holly Reed is veterinary adviser to the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan; Craig Standridge, Public Programs & Visitor Studies Coordinator at the zoo, is the education adviser.

Helping to preserve the imperiled species dovetails well with the zoo’s core values of conservation and preservation, Deputy Director John Houck said. “The Red Wolf Recovery Program is living proof that zoo-based endangered species breeding programs can successfully bring a species back from the brink of extinction,” Houck said. “This is another wonderful example of how well such programs are working."