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Posted: Dec 19 2006, 07:21 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 10-July 06
MANTEO, N.C. - On a recent night, about 75 adventurers huddled at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and looked to the starry winter sky.
Then, they let out primal wails, hoping red wolves would answer from somewhere in the darkness.
The primitive call and response - dubbed howling safaris - has become popular at the refuge near the Outer Banks now that the highly endangered animals over the past two decades have repopulated in eastern North Carolina.
"There is something very mystical that people associate with wolves," said Kim Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, an advocacy organization based in the nearby town of Columbia. "I hear a lot of stories from people who say they have looked into the eyes of wolves, and the wolves looked into their souls."
The safaris, held weekly in summer and sporadically in other seasons, are limited to 100 people and require reservations.
For Track McCreary, 55, a library information specialist who drove from Virginia Beach to the refuge, the event is a reminder of his childhood in Texas, where his father taught him about wolves.
"He used to take me out in the middle of the night to listen to the wolves," McCreary said. "The least I can do for him is to come out and listen to the wolves."
Wildlife biologists Wendy and John Stanton of Columbia accompanied their two sons' Cub Scout pack for their third safari.
"This is the only place in the world where the red wolf exists," said John Stanton, who hoped that his sons would leave with a valuable lesson. "I hope that this instills some stewardship and ethics in their minds about how humans and wildlife co-exist."
Red wolves were once common in the Southeast but were killed as nuisances until they were declared extinct in the wild by 1980. A few years earlier, the few remaining wolves had been trapped and placed in a captive breeding program.
Today, 100 to 120 red wolves, descendants of the breeding program wolves, range across five North Carolina coastal counties. The goal is to reach about 220 animals in the wild.
The animals still face challenges from humans. The Navy wants to convert 30,000 acres in Washington and Beaufort counties into a runway where jets can simulate night landings on aircraft carriers.
Environmentalists say the landing strip - and its noise - would harm wildlife and pose a severe risk of bird-aircraft collisions, largely because of the nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
"This will likely be very disruptive to red wolves trying to maintain territories and communicate with other wolves," said Pete Benjamin, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Navy has acknowledged that red wolves might traverse the airstrip site, but it initially concluded that the landing field would not harm them.
The Navy is doing a more in-depth environmental study because a federal judge ruled that its first study was flawed. The Navy says the follow-up study will take into account the latest information about wolves near the proposed runway.