Although there is growing support in North Carolina and elsewhere for wolf restoration, negative attitudes toward top-level predators are among the major challenges to the long-term success of wild red wolf populations. These attitudes range from the view that wolves and other predators are nusiances to the deeply entrenched hostility that many people have historically demonstrated toward wolves. While the ferocious and unrelenting persecution of wolves ended with passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, fear and hatred remain despite the evidence that red wolves pose little or no danger to humans.
Some private landholders in northeastern North Carolina object to the presence of wolves on their property. However, depredation on livestock and pets is not a major problem for wildlife managers in the red wolf restoration region. Corporate agriculture (soybeans, cotton, etc.) is big business, but large cattle and sheep operations are virtually non-existent. Losses of chickens and goats on small farms have been minimal over the years, as have been attacks on domestic pets.
Gunshot mortality is a grave concern. Hunting is woven deeply into the regional culture, and the growing popularity of predator hunting may be having an impact on red wolf mortality. Young red wolves resemble coyotes, and in November, when hunting season begins each year, an alarming number of breeders are killed. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Red Wolf Coalition cooperate in efforts to teach the public about the value of conserving this rare predator and the habitat it needs to thrive. Two major goals are to work with stakeholders and with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission on red wolf issues. Additionally, plans are underway to build a large. natural-habitat enclosure for a resident group of wolves so that people can see a red wolf and make the essential connection with this critically endangered animal. In 2010, a reward was posted for information leading to the prosecution of individuals who illegally kill endangered red wolves.
Are attitudes changing? David Rabon, Red Wolf Recovery Program Coordinator, has this to say: Local opposition to red wolf restoration remains, although tolerance and even acceptance appear to have increased since the red wolf was first restored to eastern North Carolina in 1987. Some people living in the red wolf recovery area remain concerned for their safety of their families, pets, and livestock. The Red Wolf Recovery Program’s responsibility is to be responsive to the concerns of citizens most affected by the presence of wolves. It’s essential to educate and inform the public about the history and behavior of red wolves, the issues of managing wolves, the presence of coyotes and their interaction with wolves, and the benefits of restoring and conserving red wolves.