call of the wild: Wolf howling is popular program
Coastal Review Online
of vehicles slowly snakes along, traveling five miles down a dusty
gravel road to way down yonder in the woods.
trucks, sports cars, SUVs, station wagons and a Tioga RV camper with
three bicycles strapped to its bumper carry mostly Outer Banks
vacationers on a twilight excursion to hear red wolves howl in the
Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in Dare County.
River National Wildlife Refuge was
established in 1984 to protect and preserve unique wetland habitat and
associated wildlife species, including the red wolf.
refuge, off U.S. 64, is part of the Southeastern Region of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service. Open to the public year round, the refuge
covers 54,000 acres on the mainland portions of Dare and Hyde counties.
the summer, the staff offers guided tours, giving adventurous visitors
an up close look at resident bears and other wildlife and a chance to
hear red wolves howl at sunset.
a recent humid Wednesday night in mid-July, 50 nature lovers are
gathered for the regular Wednesday night wolf howling. They
traveled to this spot from Austin, Texas; Danbury Conn.; Raleigh; New
Bern, and other places.
Peterson and his family were on the way home to New Bern from their
Outer Banks vacation and noticed a gathering of cars and people at the
refuge entrance about 20 miles outside of Manteo.
the kids’ pleas to keep heading home, Peterson decided to pull over to
see what the fuss was about. A few minutes later, his recreation
vehicle, fully packed and loaded, was making its way past canals,
fields and woods on a tour to look for bears.
daughter Elizabeth is excited. “We saw five bears and some cubs,” she
said. “We saw them out in a field, and one of them stood up.”
seeing bears, the kids gave up their quest to hurry home and decided to
stick around to hear the red wolves howl.
Brick, a rising senior studying wildlife science at the State
University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry,
is interning as a red wolf caretaker at the Alligator River refuge this
arrives at the park entrance a half hour before the red wolf howling
event and sets up her display. She drops her truck’s tailgate and
positions a framed photo of a red wolf, a couple of pelts and skulls, a
trap and a tracking collar.
visitors begin to gather, Brick starts her program, tailoring her
remarks to nearly two dozen kids and teenagers in the audience.
wolves once roamed the Southeast, but by the 1980s, most of them had
been wiped out through eradication, loss of habitat and interbreeding
with coyotes,” she said.
1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared red wolves
extinct in the wild, although captive breeding programs had been in
place for nearly a decade, according to information on the Fish and
Wildlife Service website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an aggressive attempt to
reintroduce the purebred red wolf into the wild, here at the Alligator
River Wildlife Refuge,” Brick said.
1987, The Red Wolf Recovery Program placed its first group of red
wolves into the wilds of the Alligator River refuge, and a year later,
the first litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild.
breeding is still in place, and in a secluded area on the refuge, two
pairs of adult wolves and four other females live and breed. After
giving birth, their pups are introduced to free roaming wolves and grow
up in the wild.
estimates 75-100 wild red wolves live and roam over a five-county area
in northeastern North Carolina and Virginia.
events attract hundreds of visitors.
howl for a number of reasons, but they primarily do it to communicate,”
and Haley Whitley, sisters visiting from Raleigh, have traveled from
Ocracoke Island with their parents and little brother to hear the
loves wolves and points to a picture of one printed on her T-shirt. “I
think they are graceful and very cool,” she said.
took Haley to a wolf howling when she was four,” said her mom,
Christine Whitley. “She’s 10 now, and we wanted to bring her back so
she’d remember it.”
and Tom Smith are local residents who live nearby in Southern Shores.
They are at the howling with their daughter, Jenn, a photographer who
is visiting from Danbury, Conn.
have always loved wolves. I had a mini-obsession with them when I was a
teenager,” she said. “I love all animals, but wolves are the most
daylight fades, it is time to visit the wolves. Up the road, a black
bear lumbers out of a field and heads toward the forest area.
line up and slowly make their way deep into the refuge.
frogs, bull frogs, crickets, cicadas and other critters sing their
night songs loud enough to raise the dead on an otherwise silent night.
flies as big as sparrows dive bomb the parade of cars making their way
past woods and fields, and past a sign that says “no vehicles beyond
this point,” until they finally stop next to a path that leads into
and two other guides have instructed this group of explorers to turn
off their phones and to avoid slamming car doors so the wolves in their
breeding pens won’t be alarmed.
lowers their voices to whispers for good measure.
walk into the woods until their shapes melt into the shadows.
sound of humans howling hangs in the air as the guides call out to the
wolves respond in a chorus of high pitched soprano voices harmonizing
with an odd baritone. They yip. They yap. They moan and howl
a couple of minutes before the woods fall silent again.
it is the visitors’ turn to howl. Brick gives a quick lesson,
counts to three, and the entire crowd stands with their heads thrown
back. Hands cupping their mouths, they howl into the black, moonless
met with silence. They try a few more times, but the wolves are done.
thrilled adventurers return to their vehicles to begin the slow journey
back to civilization.
voice breaks the silence in the darkness.
so cool. It was like a symphony.”
wolf howlings at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge will be
held on Wednesdays through August. The cost is $7 a person, but there
is no charge for children under 12. Free howlings are scheduled for
some Saturdays in October and December.
complete schedule see the refuge web
story is provided courtesy of Coastal Review Online, the coastal news
and features service of the N.C. Coastal Federation. You can read other
stories about the N.C. coast at www.nccoast.org.)