Texas Zoo leaps towards red wolf conservation efforts | Characteristics

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As Spirit and Carmen prowl the grass, slyly eyeing a 9-pound deer leg, they remain vigilant, choosing not to jump on their food until the humans nearby are gone.

For the two red wolves, their environment closely mimics what they would experience in the wild. And to visitors looking at Texas zoo, the Red Wolves are in an exhibit that is intentionally designed to do just that, for a very important reason.

“We want to bridge the gap between what’s going on in the zoo and what’s going on in the wild, and understanding what’s going on with red wolves is important,” said Elizabeth Jensen, executive director of the Texas Zoo.






The two red wolves at the Texas Zoo are released after being examined.




Although the zoo has had red wolves since the 1990s, the effort to embrace and prioritize red wolf conservation is relatively new, she said.

Jensen, who began her role just as Hurricane Harvey hit, attended a workshop in November 2018 at the Endangered Wolves Center in Eureka, Missouri, where she learned new methods and techniques to better care for red wolves.

“We are just starting to do our part in terms of conserving the red wolf,” she said. “I think we used to just get along, but I think now we’re going to start building on what we have and seeing what we can do to do more and help conserve them. “






Texas Zoo Red Wolf Conservation Program

Dr. Alexis Roth examines one of the red wolves at the Texas Zoo. The zoo is partnering with the Species Survival Plan for Red Wolves. This is overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.




Historically, wolves have always had a bad reputation with people, Jensen said. Herders in particular can “take up arms” against red wolves or other wolves because they don’t want to lose livestock, she said.

But the benefits of having wolves in the wild are very clear, Jensen said. For example, red wolves help keep the population of deer and other species healthier and more hardy because they distinguish the sick, Jensen said.

“So a healthy wolf population means you have a healthy deer population, which ecologically means they’re very important,” she said.

Red wolves were in the wild in North Carolina until fairly recently, Jensen said, when, after a number of lawsuits, courts ruled that red wolves must be reintroduced into the wild.






Texas Zoo Red Wolf Conservation Program

Molly Beattie and Jay Jensen pull out a deer paw for the two red wolves at the Texas Zoo. The zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan for the red wolves.




The details of the location and other details regarding the reintroduction of the red wolves into the wild are still being decided, Jensen said. For now, the Texas Zoo is joining with other zoos and wolf centers to help with conservation efforts.

An important step in those efforts, Jensen said, is creating a habitat for wolves that mimics what their habitat would be like in the wild.

To do this, the zoo staff treat the two red wolves very differently from other zoo animals. They do not train or form relationships with wolves, but rather work to simulate the most natural habitat possible for endangered animals. The wolf display is intentionally overlooked to simulate a more natural habitat.

“Even with food, our staff drop food and water as needed into the exhibit, but be careful not to overdo it,” she said. “If we were to put in a whole deer carcass, for example, you could go without going into that exhibit for several days. “

Some zoos and wolf centers breed red wolves, Jensen said, so their populations increase and entire packs of wolves can be introduced into the wild. Jensen has stated that Carmen and Spirit do not appear to be breeding compatible, but still play an important role.

Like the other animals in the zoo, the two red wolves are visited each year by a veterinarian. During the visit, the vet takes among other things the vital signs of the wolves.

After the vet’s visit in December, some of the blood taken from the wolves was sent to a red wolf blood bank at Arkansas State University, Jensen said, which is probably used for research purposes.

“In any way we can, we want to contribute,” she said.

Next year, Jensen said she hopes to send wildlife care staff from the zoo to the same workshop so they can receive the hands-on training and education she has provided. Reflecting on the importance of wolves, she pointed out that the zoo’s logo is that of a howling wolf, something she said made her proud.

“They are part of our heritage, part of our culture, and not to have wolves in the wild would be a very sad day,” Jensen said. “We are a small zoo that is going to do big things.”

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.



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