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South Dakota zoo welcomes litter of "critically endangered" red wolves

A litter of six red wolf pups, a highly endangered species, was born at the Great Plains Zoo in South Dakota, the zoo announced Thursday.

The red wolf species, one of two wolf species in North America, has a dangerously small population size and is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. The red wolf is "critically endangered," which is the stage before "extinct in the wild," and its numbers are expected to continue declining, according to the IUCN.

The litter laying with its mother
The litter laying with their mother. June 2023.  Great Plains Zoo

As of May 2023, there were about 23 to 25 red wolves in the wild and 278 in captivity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) estimated.

The new litter, which is made up of two females and four males, is a product of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, which is overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The plan partners with animal sanctuaries and zoos to assist in the captive breeding of red wolves.

Due to the efforts of recovery programs, the species has made a comeback after being declared extinct in the wild in 1980 due to human persecution and habitat loss, the USFW said.

The new litter's parents — Camelia, from Washington, and Uyosi, from Texas — are first-time parents caring for their pups as best as they can, the zoo said. Meanwhile, zookeepers are monitoring the wolves at all times with a live camera.

"We are fortunate to have vet staff and animal care staff that have worked with red wolves for more than 15 years," said Joel Locke, the Animal Care Director at Great Plains Zoo. "We had our last litter from our previous pair of red wolves in 2016, so the team is well-versed in red wolf care."

As the pups grow bigger, they will be allowed to wander around their exhibit as long as visitors cooperate with the zoo's request to keep quiet around the animals, so as not to expose them or their parents to environmental stress. 

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