Asheville – A critically endangered red wolf —now known as Ben — was flown to the Asheville Regional Airport from New Jersey aboard a 1982 Piper Saratoga in late November. The aircraft’s pilot was Michael Schneider, Founder and Executive Director of Pilots To The Rescue (PTTR). The aircraft did not head back north empty; PTTR returned home to New Jersey-based nonprofit Home for Good with dogs from Aiken, South Carolina who were at risk of euthanization.
Rebecca Bose, Curator of the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York, assisted the journey to Asheville to ensure the safe transport of this precious cargo. The WCC works to protect and preserve both the Mexican gray wolf and the American red wolf through education, advocacy, and participation in the federal recovery and release programs for these species.
WNC Nature Center
As mentioned in a Tribune article in January 2021, The Western North Carolina Nature Center plays an important role in saving animals from extinction. As part of its Species Survival Plan (SSP) program, 13 red wolf pups were born into their care between 1996 and 2014. Pups were born in May 2012 to their former red wolves, Mayo and Phoenix. All these red wolves were moved to other facilities as part of the ongoing Species Survival Plan. In October, US Fish and Wildlife estimated that there are only 15 to 17 red wolves living in the wild in Eastern North Carolina.
241 red wolves live under human care in places like the WNC Nature Center. The center has been involved with the American Red Wolf Recovery Program since 1990, when they began exhibiting red wolves for the first time.
Red wolves Karma and Garnet arrived in Asheville in the fall of 2018. For the past two years, they have not successfully reproduced. Because red wolves are so critically endangered, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan program recommended that a new breeding pair of red wolves be transferred to the WNC Nature Center. This transition will be completed in the coming months. This past September, Garnet went to the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri, and Karma will be leaving in the spring of 2022. After Ben successfully quarantined, he and Karma were placed together for companionship and will remain together until the new female is transferred to the WNC Nature Center. A new chapter begins to preserve this highly endangered species.
Other New Wildlife Arrive
Altogether three new animals have just joined the WNC Nature Center in time for holiday visits. Besides Ben, the new American Red Wolf, Boris, a Barn Owl, joined Bela, another Barn Owl, in the Birds of Prey area this December. In addition, a four year old rattlesnake arrived from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and will be at the indoor Appalachian Station, where the reptiles and amphibians are housed.
Barn Owls have a white flat heart-shaped face that is distinctive to its species and aids in hearing. Boris is about 12 years old and came to the WNC Nature Center from Ross Park Zoo in Binghamton, New York. His plumage is mostly made up of white to gold colored feathers. Compared to other owl species, the barn owl has a beak that is hidden behind stiff feathers that protrude out from its nostrils with eyes that are relatively smaller than most other owl species. Barn Owls require a lot of space for hunting and are often found nesting in barns and deserted buildings. They need a minimum of 70 acres of land as their hunting zone and will hunt and eat various small mammals. Barn Owls have a very unique flight style, and they can hover in the air for as long as a minute.
Accreditation by Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Fewer than 10% of all zoos and aquariums in the world meet the standards to earn accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “The standards for accreditation are higher than they have ever been. We are proud that we continue to improve each and every year to meet these demands,” said WNC Nature Center Director Chris Gentile. To earn AZA accreditation, zoos must meet rigorous standards in animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, safety and other areas. The entire accreditation process must be repeated every five years and was just received once again. The WNC Nature Center has been accredited since 1999.
Visiting the WNC Nature Center
The City of Asheville’s 42-acre WNC Nature Center, at 75 Gashes Creek Road, is home to over 60 species of animals native to the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. The youngsters eyes light up as they see the two American Black Bears Uno and Ursa; or view the River Otters Obi and Olive as they scamper through the water, or see Missy, the Bobcat sleeping in her hammock. There are opportunities for teens to volunteer and gain experience working with animals. Registration for the summer camp begins February 15. All camps are for children entering first grade through fourth grade in fall 2022. All sessions include animal encounters, outdoor recreation, crafts, and group activities on and around the Nature Center grounds.
The Nature Center is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 3:30 pm, 361 days a year. To learn more about the many programs offered for all ages, to purchase a ticket or become a member or a Friend, go to www.wildwnc.org.