TACOMA – Red wolves – and their haunting, high-pitched howls – are back at Point Defiance.
A breeding pair named Graham and Ocean Blue were released Monday into new, elegant digs at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, followed Tuesday by three more wolves – 3-year-old sisters Nami, Tala and Mika.
The red wolves left their zoo exhibit in July 2009 to make way for construction of their new exhibit. They have been staying at the zoo’s 7-acre red wolf breeding compound at Northwest Trek in Eatonville, Wash.
The animals’ new $1.1 million exhibit, called Red Wolf Woods, will open to the public Saturday, and the zoo plans a weekend Wolf Fest through Monday.
The exhibit befits Graham and Ocean’s status as being among the red wolf Adams and Eves needed for survival of their endangered species. Monday’s release was a special moment for zoo staff members who have worked for years on the program.
“It’s a dream come true,” zoo deputy director John Houck said of the new exhibit. “It’s something very special to the staff.”
The pair will occupy one of two 8,600-square-foot enclosures in the exhibit. If they breed successfully next spring, Houck said, the family probably will stay together there.
The exhibit includes a conservation center that offers information on the conservation program to save the red wolf and how people can get involved. The center is not finished.
In the 1970s, only 14 red wolves roamed the planet. Today, there are about 300, with many reintroduced into the wild. The exhibit honors the 40-year recovery program and the zoo’s role in it.
“Reproduction specialists, genetic-management experts, world-class veterinarians and top-notch animal care staff have joined together in Pierce County to keep this critically endangered species from going extinct,” Houck said.
Joining with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the zoo began its red wolf breeding program in 1973 and 14 years later released four adult pairs into their natural habitat. In 2007, the zoo won the nation’s top conservation award for its red wolf work.