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By Valerie Schremp Hahn
Only about 20 American red wolves live in the wild, and the St. Louis Zoo is making a concerted effort to help the critically endangered species, it announced Monday morning.
The zoo will transform about 20 acres of a property it owns in Franklin County in the Villa Ridge area, making it a secure home to 12 breeding pairs of American red wolves.
The zoo will develop a portion of its 355-acre property, known as the St. Louis Zoo Sears Lehmann, Jr. Wildlife Reserve, this year. The wolves will arrive from other conservation organizations in 2022. It will not be open to the public in order for the animals to learn natural survival skills.
The land was donated in 1993 and has mostly been used since for native wildlife, though the zoo had outlined plans to turn it into a breeding farm and wildlife preserve.
The zoo is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages wolf populations, and the Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a global initiative to save animals from extinction. It is also getting advice from the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka.
The space will provide about 25 percent of the space needed within the American Red Wolf Species Survival Plan to double their population in zoos to an optimal size.
Most American red wolf deaths have been caused by humans, the zoo said, whether that means illegal hunting, striking wolves with vehicles or destroying their habitats.
The facility is supported by private donations from Kevin Beckmann and an anonymous donor. It also received fish and wildlife service recovery challenge grant funding through C2S2.