Fourth endangered red wolf struck and killed by vehicle in North Carolina – OBX Today

Fourth endangered red wolf struck and killed by vehicle in North Carolina - OBX Today
North Carolina red wolf, Muppet. Credit: Walt Jenkins.

A beloved juvenile red wolf named Muppet has been killed by a vehicle strike, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week.

Muppet, who was apparently struck and killed on April 15, was the fourth red wolf road mortality in the past 10 months. Muppet’s father was also killed by a vehicle strike six months earlier along the same stretch of Highway 64, which runs through Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

“Muppet’s tragic death brings North Carolina’s beleaguered red wolves one step closer to extinction,” said Will Harlen, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The world’s most endangered wolves should not be roadkill, especially when we know that building wildlife crossings could save them from being hit by vehicles. We owe it to Muppet and his family to give red wolves a fighting chance.”

Fewer than 20 red wolves remain in the wild, making them the most endangered wolves on the planet. Vehicle strikes are the second leading cause of mortality for red wolves.

Muppet was named for his conspicuously long, thick neck. He was a member of the Milltail Pack, one of only two families of red wolves in the wild. The Milltail Pack consists of a breeding male and female and nine surviving offspring.

Muppet — also known as 2410M — was the first-born and eldest of his pack’s juvenile wolves. After Muppet’s father died last fall, Muppet stepped up to fill in his role. Muppet helped protect the pups that his father left behind and even looked after his mother.

Muppet was less than two years old when he died. In addition to Muppet and his father, two other red wolves have been killed by vehicles in the past year in the same area: An unnamed female pup identified as 2501F was killed by vehicle strike in December, and an adult female was hit in July.

All wild red wolves live in and around two wildlife refuges in eastern North Carolina near the Outer Banks. Wildlife crossings in these areas would benefit red wolves and many other species at the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges, including river otters, bobcats and black bears.

Wildlife crossings also protect human lives. Wildlife collisions kill more than 200 people in the U.S. every year and cause $10 billion in damages. North Carolina is considered by insurance companies to be a high-risk state for wildlife collisions, and 7% of all vehicle crashes statewide involve animal strikes.

Wildlife crossings along Highway 64 in eastern North Carolina would safeguard the health of critically endangered red wolves and an increasing number of motorists traveling to and from the Outer Banks.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized $350 million in federal funds to support wildlife crossings nationally. A coalition of 15 national and regional organizations is requesting $10 million in funds from the North Carolina legislature to fund wildlife crossings across the state, including crossings along Highway 64 in red wolf territory.

“To stop cars from killing these desperately endangered animals, we need to create wildlife crossings in their last refuges,” said Harlan. “Wildlife crossings can protect human lives and save red wolves from extinction.”

Thousands of red wolves once roamed across most of eastern North America. By 1960, they were nearly extinct. Red wolves were saved by the Endangered Species Act, which established a captive breeding program and reintroduced red wolves into the wild in eastern North Carolina.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Red Wolf Recovery Program successfully grew the wild population to more than 130 wolves. Then the program was halted in 2015, and the population crashed to as few as seven.

Fortunately, the Red Wolf Recovery Program resumed in 2021, but serious threats remain for the world’s most endangered wolves. Gunshot and vehicle strikes are the leading causes of mortality, and red wolves need additional reintroduction sites to ensure their genetic health and long-term survival.

Learn more about Muppet’s family and the 20 remaining wild red wolves at saveredwolves.org.