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Featured mission: Red wolves travel across the country
(L-R): LightHawk Flight Coordinator Nell Jordan, volunteer pilot Thomas Haas, Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center's wolf handler Taylor Berry, and volunteer pilot Alex Wohlwend at KCHA, Chattanooga, Tennessee as they prepare to transport endangered red wolves. Photo by Nell Jordan.
In early December 2022, LightHawk volunteer pilots Thomas Hass and Alex Wohlwend flew a successful mission resulting in the safe transport of endangered female red wolves. The wolves are a part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP). The purpose of the multi-day mission was to transfer female wolves between breeding facilities to increase genetic diversity and health of the red wolf population as a whole.
Coordinating the transport of multiple wolves across the US is like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube or build the tallest Jenga tower without it collapsing. LightHawk volunteer pilots have been involved with wolf transportation since 2010 and the wolves were in excellent hands with Brooke George, LightHawk's Wildlife Transport Flight Coordinator.
Tom and Alex secure Marley in the Pilatus PC- 24 before taking off from KCHA for KTIW. Photo by Nell Jordan.
This mission involved transporting a wolf from Chattanooga, Tennessee (KCHA) to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington (KTIW). Then, three wolves were picked up from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and transported from Tacoma. One wolf would be delivered to the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, Illinois, another to Reflections Riding Arboretum and Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee (KDKX), and the remaining wolf would be transported to Ithaca, New York (KITH).
Thomas has been flying wildlife missions for LightHawk since 2009. He and Alex flew to Chattanooga (KCHA) to meet LightHawk flight coordinator Nell Jordan, Taylor Berry, Nature Center's wolf handler, and Marley, the female wolf. The well-being of the wolves was a priority for Tom, Alex, Taylor and Nell for the duration of the mission. And it didn't go unnoticed. During the flight Nell received texts from our partners at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium saying,
(L-R) LightHawk Wolf Pack Crew - volunteer pilot Alex Wohlwend; Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center's wolf handler Taylor Berry; Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's wolf experts"; and longtime LightHawk wolf transporter, volunteer pilot Thomas Hass. Photo by Nell Jordan.
We can't thank volunteer pilots Tom and Alex enough for their enormous contribution to the success of this incredible wolf transport mission. It's clear LightHawk is becoming more important in wolf and other species recovery by providing safe, stress free, and efficient transportation.
LightHawk's goal is to be able to continue providing these endangered species missions for years to come and we can't do it without the generosity of our volunteer pilots. Please consider reaching out to your extended aviation community and share our information with pilots who might be interested in joining future wildlife transport missions, and being an integral part of important conservation efforts!
To learn more about this important conservation issue, read about restoring the red wolf population below in this email.
LightHawk in the News
Flying For Our Future - AOPA
LightHawk Photo of the Month
Photo by Alexander Heilner
This month's Photo of the Month comes from Alexander Heilner from an October flight over parts of the Colorado River. This photo is of Wall Street, Moab, Utah. This easily accessible rock face is a popular location for beginning rock climbers to learn the ropes. Adventure athletics have exploded in popularity, and Moab has been growing quickly.
Restoring the red wolf population
Marley resting in her crate for transport. Photo by Nell Jordan.
Historically red wolves (canis rufus) roamed a large portion of the eastern United States from southern Pennsylvania into Central Texas. However, by 1972 the red wolf population was reduced to a small area along the coastal section of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana (as seen in red on the map). Subsequently, the red wolf was listed as an endangered species under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
To prevent extinction of the species, USFWS began trapping wolves in 1973 and established a captive breeding program, intent on reintroducing the species in the wild. Unfortunately, due to human impact and habitat loss, wolf populations continued to decline, and by 1980 canis rufus was declared extinct.
Fortunately, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) approved the captive breeding program in 1984, and the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) program was established.
Today there are 243 captive red wolves involved in the Species Survival Plan located across the US in 49 facilities. As of July 2022 the USFWS reported there is an estimated wild population of 19-21 red wolves in the United States, with 10 known collared wolves. During the 2021-2022 breeding season, 28 breeding pairs were established, and 13 litters were born producing 46 pups. Twenty-nine of those pups survived, adding to the SSP population. But this conservation success story doesn't end there. In fact, the first wild red wolf litter born since 2018 was born on April 19, 2022, producing a wild red wolf litter of six pups!
LightHawk flights help transport wolves across the country. Photo by Nell Jordan.
It takes many partners and a team effort to ensure the continued success of the Species Survival Plan. The flights volunteer pilots donate adds incredible value by providing an efficient, safe and stress-free environment while moving wolves. According to Rebecca Bose from the Wolf Conservation Center, wolves are shy, timid creatures and typically do not handle shipping very well. They also have a tendency to overheat easily. Transferring wolves by commercial airlines can exponentially increase the amount of time the animals must spend in crates and some airlines will no longer ship them at all. Additionally, there are few direct flights available for transfers and offloading the crates into terminals increases the chances of handling failures, such as being left in an area that is too warm for the wolves.
Recently, one of LightHawk's partners ran into issues with a commercial flight while transferring wolves across the country. After a 3.5 hour drive to the airport, a wolf was checked in, but then had to be removed from the aircraft due to the amount of passenger luggage onboard. Fortunately, the wolf was able to get booked onto a later flight but it meant he waited in his crate for more than 8 hours. The wolf was then pulled from the next flight and, luckily, his handlers had waited at the airport and were able to drive him back to the facility.
Colorado River water is used for agriculture in communities all along the water system. Photo by RJ Sangosti
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