Conservation efforts to preserve the red wolf (Canis rufus) have been in progress since the 1970s through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Program and the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Red Wolf Species Survival Plan. An ongoing part of this project has been to monitor mortality trends, particularly to look for potential genetic conditions resulting from inbreeding given the small founding population of only 14 individuals. An initial survey was conducted in the 1990s but a comprehensive assessment of the population has not been done since then. This retrospective review evaluates mortality in the population from 1997 to 2012 through analysis of gross necropsy and histology records provided by cooperating institutions that housed red wolves during the time period of interest. Of the 378 red wolves that died during this 15-yr period, 259 animals had gross necropsy records, histology records, or both that were evaluated. The major causes of neonatal death were parental trauma, stillbirth, or pneumonia. Overall, juveniles had very low mortality rates with only 12 wolves aged 30 days to 6 mo dying during the study period. The most common cause of death within the adult populations was neoplasia, with epithelial neoplasms, carcinomas, and adenocarcinomas being the most common types reported. Gastrointestinal disease was the second most common cause of death, particularly gastric dilation and volvulus, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastrointestinal perforations. These findings are in stark contrast to causes of mortality in the wild population, which are primarily due to human-related activities such as vehicular trauma, gunshot, or poisoning. Overall, the captive population has few health problems, but an increase in inflammatory bowel disease in particular warrants further investigation.
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