By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

The Museum of Life and Science’s red wolf families has a big move scheduled this fall.

The Durham museum announced that the endangered red wolves will move on Nov. 6 to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y., which will provide an expanded, one-acre habitat for the family of six. The transfer comes at the recommendation of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan. The family’s move will be followed closely by the arrival of a new red wolf breeding pair to the museum.

All red wolves living at the museum are a part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program, which partners with the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, a collaborative breeding and management program developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to ensure the sustainability of endangered animal populations, according to a press release. Once a top predator throughout the southeastern United States and one of only two apex predators native to North Carolina, the red wolf is critically endangered with captive and wild populations totaling less than 300 individuals.

“During our annual planning meeting to evaluate the captive breeding program, the Red Wolf SSP made the decision that it would be best for the entire family to stay together with the hope that the parents will breed again next year,” said Sherry Samuels, Museum of Life and Science’s Animal Department Director and member of the Red Wolf SSP Management Team, in a press release. “We also realize that it’s best to have the family in an exhibit area with additional space to accommodate future growth. Fortunately, we were able to come up with a plan that made all of this possible.”

The museum’s adult male and female wolves, identified by the species survival plan in summer 2016 as a potential high value breeding pair, welcomed six pups in late April. Two died. And three proved to be quite adventurous, escaping from their enclosure in June and shutting down much of the museum’s outdoor outdoor campus before they found their way back home with help from museum staff.

Mom and dad will remain paired for another breeding season. Red wolf families in the wild are often comprised of parents with one or two generations of offspring. Pups frequently begin to leave their parents around six to 18 months of age.

Before they leave the museum, each wolf will get a hands-on vet health check. All four pups completed their last “well pup” check in early September and were found to be in excellent health. To reduce stress, each pup will be partnered with a sibling in their transfer crate.

Museum staff will drive the family, by van, to the conservation center in New York, according to the release. A team of drivers will make minimal stops during the transport and conduct a visual inspection of the family every four hours.

Their new home, the Wolf Conservation Center, is a private, nonprofit environmental education organization dedicated to promoting wolf conservation through programs that emphasize wolf biology, the ecological benefits of wolfs and the current status of wolf recovery in the United States. It also participates in the species survival plan and recovery program for the endangered Mexican gray wolf.

“This transfer is going to be bittersweet for us all,” said Samuels in the release. “I know many people, myself included, have become incredibly attached to the pups. It’s been wonderful watching the family grow and thrive here, but we recognize that this transition is what’s best for the family and ultimately what is best for the red wolf species as a whole. With recent developments surrounding the wild population, the responsibility of SSP institutions and the captive breeding program is more critical than ever before — this family has a big role to play in what happens next for the species.”

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