Federal officials are trying to determine who shot and killed an endangered red wolf in Tyrrell County this spring.
The wolf was found in a muddy field south of Newlands Road on April 15, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It had been shot in the spine and collapsed in the mud, some of which was found in its lungs.
Killing a red wolf is illegal, except under special circumstances. The Fish and Wildlife Service is now offering $5,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in this case.
Red wolves once ranged across the Southeast, but after decades of habitat loss and killing by humans they were nearly extinct by 1980. The Fish and Wildlife Service gathered up the remaining wild wolves and began a captive breeding program.
The first captive wolves were reintroduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern North Carolina in 1987, and by 2006 as many as 120 were thought to be living in the wild.
Since then, wolf populations have declined again, as the animals were shot, hit by cars or began breeding with coyotes, which moved into Eastern North Carolina from the west. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 17 to 20 red wolves were still in the wild at the end of 2021.
Last year, the Biden administration abandoned a proposal made under President Trump to scale back the areas where red wolves are protected and allow the killing of wolves found outside federal land. This winter, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it was renewing its efforts to help the wolves recover.
Reintroduction of the wolves has been focused on the five counties of the Albemarle Peninsula: Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington. That area includes the Alligator River and Poquosin Lakes national wildlife refuges.
Under rules set in 1995, landowners in those counties may remove a nuisance red wolf if it attacks livestock or pets. It’s also not illegal to accidentally kill a red wolf through otherwise legal activity on private land, such as trapping coyotes, as long as the death is reported to the Fish and Wildlife Service within 24 hours.
The Fish and Wildlife Service asks anyone with information about the death of the red wolf to contact Capt. Frank Simms at 252-216-7504 or Special Agent Jason Keith at 919-856-4786, ext. 34.