Endangered red wolf pups born in Trevor Zoo

Red wolf pup, shown at about three weeks old, is one of four born at the Millbrook School’s Trevor Zoo last month.

Daniel Cohen

Endangered red wolf pups born in Trevor Zoo

MILLBROOK — Six weeks ago the Millbrook School’s Trevor Zoo celebrated the birth of four endangered Red Wolf pups, described as the rarest large carnivore in America.

Their birthday was May 2, and since that day zoo staff has left the pups in their mother’s care, avoiding human dependency because the plan is to eventually introduce them to the wild.

Through the nonprofit Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) program — known as SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) programs — the Trevor Zoo, along with similar institutions, has collaborated to prevent the extinction of endangered species.

The birth of the four pups exemplifies the effectiveness of breeding programs and demonstrates Trevor Zoo’s commitment to wildlife conservation. According to the zoo’s website, it currently holds eleven endangered species.

Recommendations from AZA paved the way for the zoo to receive a male and female from other facilities involved in the Red Wolf SAFE program. The wolves traveled by plane and car and were then placed into an off-exhibit enclosure to allow nature to take its course.

The pups were ultimately delivered in the “den,” which is visible through one of the zoo’s live stream camera feeds. It is a compact and dark cube with an opening to its enclosure.

Including the four new pups, the zoo currently hosts eight Red Wolves, which are among less than 270 in the world, mostly at AZA accredited facilities and a “small population in the wild in North Carolina,” the web site notes.

“You don’t want them to be human oriented at all. So we really try to be hands-off other than getting them set up and of course, we have to bring them food, etc.

“But we’re trying to do that in ways that minimize contact with humans so that should pups be born, they are listening to mom more than they are to us, “ said Alan Tousignant, Director of the Trevor Zoo.

Endangered red wolf pups born at the Trevor Zoo at Millbrook School have minimal contact with humans to prepare them for eventual introduction into the wild. Live cam at www.millbrook.org/trevor-zoo-homeDaniel Cohen

Though the plan is tentative and based on the observed behavior of the pups, introduction into the wild would start at what is called a pre-release site. The site would be an enclosed location adjacent to their wild habitat. As hunger is a strong driver for the wolves, presenting live food and allowing them to feel out their new circumstances acts as an initiation for life in the wild.

In the United States, the wild Red Wolf population resides on the coast of North Carolina. Peaking in 2006, the Red Wolf population has been declining. For this reason preserving genetic diversity is vital to the survival of the species.

“These programs are trying to maintain high genetic diversity in the populations. That’s really difficult when you’re trying to work with a population that only has 30 individuals left in the wild,” said Tousignant.

He compares the moving of endangered animals for breeding to a game of chess, where every decision affects the next, but instead of protecting the king in the case of a chess game, here the survival of a species is at risk.

The zoo has a long-standing history of conservation. Tousignant explained that the zoo was first accredited by the AZA in 1989, which allowed it to be involved in Species Rival Plans (SSP), the predecessor of SAFE.

Although Red Pandas are among the most recognizable endangered species protected at the zoo, another SAFE program focuses on the freshwater turtles inhabiting the wetlands around Millbrook School.

“As part of class, we can just get out of class and walk a quarter mile down the street and we’re in a wetland habitat.

“Campus houses a good if not thriving population of wood turtles and that’s an endangered species recognized globally…in New York state [they are] listed as a species of special concern,” says Tousignant.

Red wolf pup gets a Q-Tip treatment.Daniel Cohen

The late Thomas Lovejoy, a renowned conservationist, got his start by studying biodiversity and biology at the Millbrook School. Lovejoy served on the environmental council for the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations.

Lovejoy’s efforts provide Millbrook and the Trevor Zoo a special connection to the world of conservation. After his death in 2021, Lovejoy’s legacy lives on.

Semi-jokingly, Tousignant says his main job is to, “... find and motivate the next Tom Lovejoy.”

Tousignant’s hope aligns with efforts the zoo takes to get students as involved as possible in their time at Millbrook School.

“That’s what I think we have the possibility to do is to continue to find students that develop that level of passion and it becomes their life’s work. I certainly think that I’ve had advisees and students here at the zoo that are already in that role and are on path so we hope to keep doing that,” he said.

With careful supervision, students are given responsibilities tending to the animals — a rarity for zoo programs. The zoo staff believes this is the way to foster a real connection and engagement with nature.

Through summer volunteer programs, the zoo seeks students interested in conservation activities and its academic program.

The Trevor Zoo draws family visitors, especially those with children. Go to: www.millbrook.org/trevor-zoo-home for more information and live cameras inside the wolf den.

Gavin Marr is an intern at The Millerton News. He graduated from the Millbrook School in 2022. Before his first year at Millbrook he volunteered at the zoo, and in his freshman year he worked with the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs.

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