The Midland Empire Audubon Society will sponsor a free public presentation in St. Joseph this month by representatives of the Endangered Wolf Center.
The Endangered Wolf Center is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1971 in an effort to conserve wolves at risk of extinction. The conservation center is located in Eureka, Missouri, and has been breeding and developing methods for releasing Mexican wolves and American Red wolves into the wild.
Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation at the center, said the presentation in St. Joseph will be the first in Northwest Missouri.
She said there was a time when gray wolves in northern Missouri and red wolves were in southern Missouri but there is no longer an established population in the state. The last wolf packs seen in the state were in the 1950s.
Mossotti said wolves play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. As a top predator in the ecosystem, wolves keep elk and deer populations at a balanced level which benefits plants and vegetation on the landscape. The more diversity of plants, the more wildlife species can find usable habitat including songbirds and waterfowl.
The Endangered Wolf Center focuses on the Mexican wolf and the American Red wolf recovery in the wild. They are the two most endangered wolves in the world.
She said there are around 150 individual Mexican wolves in the wild and most of those are found in New Mexico and Arizona. The conservation center has also worked with Mexico to introduce more wolves into the country.
The American Red Wolf is solely native to the United States and there are around 30 currently in the wild, making it the most endangered wolf in the world.
“The only place you can find them now is North Carolina and we have assisted with the recovery efforts of that species,” Mossotti said.
She said both species had such low numbers in the wild in the 1970s that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided to capture the remaining individuals found in the wild.
“They launched a breeding program for both species and for several years in the wild they were essentially extinct and the only remaining population were in zoological or conservation centers like us,” Mossotti said.
She said they work with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan, which knows the genetics of every living Mexican Wolf and Red Wolf in the captive program.
The Endangered Wolf Center pairs the animals based on their best genetic match.
“The wolves raise their own young and they manage their own puppies,” Mossotti said. “They do a great job with it. We have enclosure habitats that are large enough to where they can have multigenerational packs just like they would in the wild. They learn how to care for the young and protect them.”
Mossotti said they hope to reestablish the species into the wild.
“We do not do any training and we are completely hands-off with the wolves with the exception of their health and vet checks,” Mossotti said. “We don’t pet them or talk with them. Wolves, unlike what you see on TV, are actually naturally very shy and do not want to be around people. They are not the scary animal that some movies portray them as. We want them to keep their natural instinct to run away from people.”
She said the conservation center hopes to dispel concerns landowners and residents have that wolves are a danger to humans.
“I have worked with wolves in the wild and what they want to do is run away from people,” Mossotti said. “They want nothing to do with people. There has not been a record of a healthy American Red wolf, which is the most endangered wolf in the world, harming a human. But we think they do because of our cultural perception.”
Mossotti said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages the species they work with in captivity since they are protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, the conservation center is funded by visitors to the conservation center, memberships and donations.
The program on endangered wolves will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 in room 102 at the library at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.