Ghost Dogs of the SOuth
In the dark and frosty morning of New Years Day, 2018, Adventure Term team members left their southeastern base and drove into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina, the last stronghold of the wild Red Wolf. The goal was simple: to come face to face with one of the most rare, imperiled, and misunderstood species on the planet - and, through interviews with professional advocates, stakeholders, and local citizens, attempt to achieve a better understanding of the steps that might be taken to rescue the shy, ephemeral, and vitally significant Red Wolf from extinction in the wild. Adventure Rating: 5/10.
Through our partnership with Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Adventure Term team members were able to share the on-the-ground experience of this expedition with a larger audience. Team members worked together to produce this short documentary film, along with a photojournalism portfolio, an investigative article, and a short audio narrative for radio. We believe that awareness leads to action- and that awareness should not be financially restricted- so we are proud to partner with Blue Ridge Outdoors to offer free digital content that tells the story of this ecologically significant species, available to everyone. Follow this link to read the article at Blue Ridge Outdoors.
Some creative aspects of this expedition are still in production, but a short report with photos from the field can be found below:
From a one-time decimated wild population, biologists with the USFWS selected four pairs of captive wolves and released them into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in 1987 as part of one of the first predator reintroduction plans in the country. From these eight wolves, the population thrived and rebounded to nearly 300 individuals, but the last ten years have seen a program plagued with mismanagement and resistance from landowners and local stakeholders. In January of 2018, there were less than 30 known wolves remaining in the wild, and the USFWS- mired by the confines of bureaucracy- have suspended active management.
Today, advocates for the Red Wolf anxiously await the release of the US Fish & Wildlife Service's new management plan, which will officially determine the fate of a species that once roamed the eastern quarter of the United States, keeping an ecosystem in balance. With their absence, invasive species have taken ground that was once defended by the wolves, and public opinion is a compass that has not yet found its north. But the Red Wolf is not without its allies, and with their original reintroduction program, the USFWS proved that the species can be successfully recovered. Adventure Term team members wanted to find out how to help.
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a bastion of biodiversity on the east coast, conveniently positioned a short drive from beautiful North Carolina beaches and Outer Banks tourist destinations. In our team's three days in and around the refuge, we only saw one other human being within the boundaries of the protected area. Great Blue Herons, Black Bears, and the imperiled Red Wolves call these important habitats home.
Only a few days before our team's arrival in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a local photographer reported sightings of a handful of Red Wolves in the area. A sudden cold snap descending upon eastern North Carolina disrupted the ideal conditions for our team, but nevertheless, we discovered tell-tale signs of wolves in the refuge. We found these large canid tracks a stone's throw from verified wolf scat - the wolves were about.
The Milltail Pack is one of the most well-known wild groups of Red Wolves that roam the Alligator River refuge. The Adventure Term team journeyed out with Red Wolf Coalition Executive Director Kim Wheeler on an early morning search for members of the Milltail Pack, but even Wheeler herself, who devotes her early mornings to searches like this, has rarely encountered members of this shy and ephemeral pack. With only a few days in the field, a chance encounter with a Red Wolf pack began to seem unlikely, and the team was forced to reconsider its objectives.
While the brevity of the expedition and unpredictable weather events meant that our Adventure Team's original goal - to come face to face with one of the last Red Wolves in the wild - was ultimately not achieved, we count this expedition as one of our most successful. Most US citizens are unaware of the Red Wolf's existence and struggle for survival, and the creative narratives that our team compiled during this short winter trip have helped to spread the word to countless people who might one day help to save this species from the dark oblivion of extinction.
Thirsty for more? Team member Trevor Ritland put together this short audio piece about the expedition:
The Adventure Team will return... will you be with us?