It’s a sad fact of the hunting world that, every once in awhile, accidents do happen. Hunters make mistakes, gear suffers from malfunctions, and injuries or deaths can occur as a result – both to humans and animals not meant to be felled by bullets or arrows.
One suspected victim of accidental hunting-related shootings this year is the red wolf, a critically endangered species with a recovery area currently mandated for parts of eastern North Carolina.
Estimations indicate that fewer than 100 of the wolves are still alive anywhere in the world, and all of them are located in North Carolina. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping that the wolves will breed together and begin building the red wolf population back to a more stable and sustainable level. However, efforts to repopulate the wolves have seen mixed results thus far, not helped by the fact that at least nine red wolves have been killed by gunshot wounds in 2013 alone, according to the Huffington Post.
At the beginning of the year, the estimate for red wolf populations pegged the auburn animals’ numbers at about 100. Add the fact that the wolves are picky about their breeding patterns – about 13 pairs out of the possible 40 or 45 are currently breeding – and it’s no wonder that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is getting worried about the future of the wolves.
Nine wolf deaths from gunshot wounds also indicate that the organization’s efforts to keep the wolves alive and unharmed by hunters or other outside forces may not be working.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that hunters are shooting the wolves by accident due to their strong resemblance to coyotes. Some red wolves have bred with coyotes in the past, only strengthening the resemblance. When they realize their mistake, hunters have been known to leave the bodies of the red wolves in the wild, not wishing to report their (honest) mistake and face consequences for it.
One explanation for the 2013 spike in red wolf killings is a recent piece of North Carolina legislation, which legalized the hunting of coyotes in and around the state’s chosen red wolf recovery area.