North Carolina Zoo - Asheboro, North Carolina
While the majority of stories surrounding the critically endangered Red Wolf focus the failures of the management program, Chris Lasher, the Vice-Coordinator of the Species Survival Plan, tells a different story. Chris oversees the mechanics of the captive breeding program, and is therefore witness to a side of the Red Wolf's story that few others ever see.
The NC Zoo houses two Red Wolves on display for visitors, and Lasher says that this was the start of the zoo’s involvement in 1994. “We saw ourselves as a facility where we could educate people coming here— to say that these animals are in your state and this is why they’re important. We quickly realized our role could be much bigger than that.”
Today, the NC Zoo houses an additional 18 wolves in its off-site breeding facilities, and has a proposal on the table to use 30 acres of zoo property for 20 additional pens, to help save the species from extinction.
Lasher is a realist regarding the challenges facing the management program, but he sees his duty as one unaltered by the turmoil threatening the wild population. “The idea of having a population under human care is to maintain the species so that in the future— when some of these difficult questions can be worked out— there can be animals on the ground, alive, that we can put back into a wild population.”
When asked how the Red Wolf’s chances of survival today compare to its odds in 1987, when the restoration efforts began in the wild, his answer is immediate and emphatic. “Its chances are better now. I guarantee you. This past year the Red Wolf SSP put 30 breeding pairs together. The survival of the species was on a precipice in the late 70s and early 80s, and we’ve pulled them off of that. As long as there’s still a number of facilities willing to try to help save this species, then the animal will be saved.”
And according to Lasher, one of the ways individuals can best lend their efforts to the species' salvation is simple: go to the zoo, and then share you experience with friends and family.
“Asking the guest to come in and give us $20 is great,” he says. “$20 matters. But I’d rather have that guest go home and tell 20 people that the Red Wolf is important and needs to be here. I think that goes much further.”