Trotting to Victory: Red Wolf Overwhelms Orca, Wins ‘Rare & Ready to Be Saved’

No matter how you voted in the fictitious bracket game, every endangered animal emerged a winner.
(Photo-collage: TakePart)
Apr 5, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

For a predator that stands a scant two feet off the ground, the red wolf is casting one gargantuan shadow over the endangered jungle this morning.

Last night, the carnivore loped to a stress-free victory over the Southern Resident killer whale, 74 percent to 26 percent, in the championship round of “Rare & Ready to Be Saved,” TakePart’s annual bracket game that supports the Endangered Species Coalition’s efforts to safeguard threatened animals and their vanishing ecosystems.

The red wolf’s romp to the winner’s circle—in addition to its title-game victory over the orca, it defeated the California condor, the Malayan tiger, and the Chinese pangolin in Rounds 1, 2, and 3—was dominant: Its average margin of victory was 49 percentage points.

It’s the second consecutive year a canid emerged victorious in the bracket game. Last year, the Mexican gray wolf defeated the northern hairy-nosed wombat in the final round. In 2014, the Sumatran tiger thumped the mountain gorilla in the title game.

The red wolf’s fictitious triumph is a ray of sunshine in what has otherwise been an overcast last few months in the real world for the endangered species.

On March 24, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming it had mishandled its Red Wolf Recovery Program. Three other conservation groups filed a similar lawsuit against the agency last fall. In June 2015, the USFWS stopped releasing wolves born in captivity into the wild and announced it would conduct a feasibility study on whether to alter or abandon its recovery program.

Then, in October of last year, the agency convened a 13-member advisory panel of parties on both sides of the issue—local landowners, who contest recovery efforts because they argue the wolves predate their livestock, and conservationists, who seek to strengthen the recovery program. The panel, plagued by infighting, adjourned last month without making any recommendations.

Once abundant across large parts of the Southeastern United States, the red wolf, a more svelte cousin of the gray wolf, was nearly hunted and trapped to extinction in the last century. After declaring it endangered in 1973, the USFWS began releasing red wolves it bred in captivity into the wild in 1987. By the mid-aughts, the wild population soared to more than 100 individuals. But owing to gunshot mortalities—both of the legal (under predation permits) and accidental (when, for example, red wolves are mistaken for coyotes) varieties—the species is once again flirting with extinction. Today its wild population, which lives only in a five-county area of eastern North Carolina, is just 45 to 60 individuals.

While only one of the 16 contestants in “Rare & Ready to Be Saved” was crowned the winner, in reality every species in the game came out on top. Because of your votes, TakePart was able to donate $5,000 to the Endangered Species Coalition. The nonprofit will use the funds to shield endangered species in their native habitats.

Be sure to check in next year for another “Rare & Ready to Be Saved.” Until then, please sign the petition below, which urges the USFWS to continue to honor the original intent of the Endangered Species Act.