COLUMBIA, N.C. – Deer hunting, a sporting tradition enjoyed by thousands of people in North Carolina, is underway in most parts of the state, but conservation groups are concerned that one endangered animal is getting caught in the crossfire.

Red wolves, who live in the eastern parts of the Tar Heel State, are often mistaken for coyotes, an animal commonly shot by hunters during deer season because of its invasive nature.

Heather Clarkson, southeast program outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife, explained the problem.

“We’re concerned that some of these anti-wolf folks over in the recovery area will maliciously go out and shoot the red wolf, knowing that all they have to do is say they thought it was a coyote,” she said. “There should be more enforcement on the shooting of the red wolf.”

The future of red wolves is currently in question in North Carolina ,with the federal government’s attempt to remove the animal from private properties in the state to federal lands. That plan has been temporarily halted by a U.S. District Judge.

Once close to extinction, the red wolf was successfully reintroduced to North Carolina in 1987. According to a recent poll by Tulchin Research, the majority of North Carolinians support red wolf recovery in the state.

Clarkson said hunters should not shoot at an animal unless they’re sure of its species. In addition, the prevailing logic of hunters that killing coyotes will rid the state of the nuisance runs counter to the reality.

“The studies show that shooting a coyote is not really helping the situation at all,” she added. “Killing a coyote does nothing to make them go away. In fact, when you shoot coyotes, you encourage the ones who you haven’t shot to breed more and produce larger litters.”

There are fewer than 45 red wolves left in the wild in North America.

via: Open Season Deer Hunting Could Threaten Endangered Species / Public News Service