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Red Wolf at Large in Southern New York

December 20, 2004

One of three endangered red wolves escaped from a zoo in New York state in early December and remains at large, according to Buddy Fazio, leader of the red wolf recovery program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Carolina.

Service biologists and staff at Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton have been unable to recapture the wolf. Zoo officials believe that the wolf remains in the area, and they are continuing to maintain traps. A second wolf also escaped but was captured.

Red wolves are known for their ingenuity and can surprise even the most experienced animal handlers, said Fazio.

We are still unsure as to how she did escape the enclosure, said Executive Director Jarod Miller of the Ross Park Zoo. There weren’t any obvious exit points under the exhibit fencing nor any signs of where she may have gone over the fencing. We are continuing our efforts until she is recaptured.

The escaped wolf is just 7 months old and weighs 45 to 50 pounds, Fazio said. She is slightly larger than a local coyote but has different characteristics. Red wolves move more deliberately than coyotes. They have a longer, more robust or dog-like snout compared to the shorter, more pointed and narrow coyote snout. While red wolves have more red or buff-colored fur, some coyotes have similar coloration.

Fazio said that if people see a canid traveling alone or hear deeper-toned wolf howls instead of higher-toned yapping coyote howls, the wolf may be in their area. If so, they should contact the zoo by calling 607-724-5461.

The missing wolf is valuable for genetic management as part of a captive breeding program to recover the species. Fazio believes that the wolf has a 50/50 chance of survival in the wild. She could be misidentified by hunters, attacked by aggressive coyotes or hit by a vehicle, Fazio said.

The captive breeding program for red wolves uses some 40 facilities across the country. This is the fifth escaped wolf in the 29-year history of the program. Two wolves escaped separately from an Illinois zoo in the mid-1990s and were recaptured. Two wolves escaped from separate Texas facilities, one in the mid-1980s and one in 2000, and were not recaptured.

Red wolves were designated as endangered in 1967. The species was considered extinct in the wild by 1980. The captive breeding program began in 1973 to preserve the genetic integrity of the species. Scientists believe the historic range of the red wolf extended from Texas to Florida and as far north as Pennsylvania or New England.


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