CHARLESTON — Four endangered red wolves have returned to the birthplace of South Carolina, going on display in a zoo where their species freely roamed more than 300 years ago.
The 9,000-square-foot red wolf habitat at the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site on the Ashley River opened to the public on Tuesday. The wolves came to South Carolina about a month ago from the Trevor Zoo in Millbrook, N.Y., where they were born last year.
It’s the first time red wolves will be displayed at Charles Towne Landing, where the Carolina colony was founded in 1670.
The park’s Animal Forest natural habitat zoo, created in 1970, displays animals that would have lived along the South Carolina coast when the English colony was founded.
“The goal has always been, if we could logically do it, to bring back all the animals that were indigenous to the area,” said Duane Parrish, the director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
“A lot of people in South Carolina probably don’t know bison were here in 1670,” he said. “They probably don’t know red wolves were here. And they probably don’t know what they look like because the gray wolf is what you’re used to seeing on television and these are different.”
Parrish offered brief remarks before a black curtain covering the viewing window at the wolf habitat was removed. The four female wolves, spooked by the attention, started quickly pacing along the fence at the far side of the compound before settling down beside each other and cautiously eyeing the humans.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, red wolves were once common throughout the eastern and south-central areas of the United States. Their numbers were decimated because of hunting and loss of habitat.
There are now only about 120 red wolves in the wild, most in eastern North Carolina – where scientists are trying to restore the breed – and about 200 in captive breeding programs nationwide.
Charles Towne Landing applied last year to the Red Wolf Species Survival Program to get the wolves. The program is comprised of the 42 sites around the country that have wolves, park manager Rob Powell said.
The curator of the park’s animal forest, Jillian DeLorge-Davis, has taken special training in the care of the wolves. She said that part of challenge is to keep human contact to a minimum. The Charleston wolves may at some point be moved elsewhere for breeding or could be released into the wild.
She said they have names, but those names will be changed to something more in keeping with South Carolina, perhaps the name of local Native American tribes.
Powell said the park has no plans to become a breeding site.
He said writings from colonial days indicate the red wolves were once abundant along the South Carolina coast. They were generally killed as predators of livestock and their fur was a local commodity, he said.