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Great Plains Zoo continues conservation efforts for red wolves

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Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History
Uyosi, the male red wolf at the Great Plains Zoo.

The Great Plains Zoo is Sioux Falls has two new red wolves as part of the Red Wolves Species Survival Plan.

The wolves, Uyosi and Camellia, came from The Texas Zoo in Victoria, Texas, and Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., respectively. They arrived in October after the last red wolf pair passed away last May.

“When they passed, we knew we were going to have to continue to contribute to the red wolves’ conservation work,” said Stephanie Arne, interim director of conservation at the Great Plains Zoo.

Angela Blommer, a zookeeper who helps care for the red wolves, said the pair have already bonded and she hopes they will be able to breed in the spring.

“Usually, February is when we see the most breeding, but it can start in January and go through probably April at the latest,” she said. “They seem really well-bonded.”

Red wolves are native to North America. The only known wild red wolves are found in eastern North Carolina. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently 10 known and collared red wolves in the wild, with an estimated number of 19 to 21 wolves total. Red wolves were officially labeled as an endangered species in 1967.

“Since about the 70s, we had some major alarm bells that were going off that we needed to do something to save these wolves,” Arne said. “And so the (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) came together to hope to basically create a breeding program.”

Blommer said having the red wolves at the Great Plains Zoo both educates the public about the species and helps the zookeepers better understand them.

“We try to get the word out there, but because their population is so limited in the wild, we can’t really go out and study a bunch of them,” she said. “We leave that to the top experts, because when there’s only 10 to study, you can’t really send a bunch of people out there.”

The Great Plains Zoo has conservation programs for other species, as well. Arne said the zoo has conservation projects for two endangered species in the state: black-footed ferrets and the Dakota skipper butterfly. Zoo staff will trap and vaccinate black-footed ferrets in western South Dakota to help keep the species healthy, and the zoo is working with the Minnesota Zoo to collect Dakota skipper butterfly eggs to breed and eventually release them.

The zoo also works has programs promoting global conservation programs for the black rhino in Namibia and the snow leopard in Nepal and is sending keepers to both countries.

“So, we’re really passionate about making sure we contribute, both locally and globally,” Arne said.

Jordan is a senior English and journalism major at SDSU in Brookings. She is from De Smet, South Dakota. She is based out of the Sioux Falls studio.