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Blog Animals

Early one morning in April 2020

Closeup of a male red wolf named Ellerbe.

November was a big month for the red wolf – a proposed rule that would have allowed people to intentionally kill red wolves in much of Eastern North Carolina was withdrawn by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, at least in part due to public comment.

Red wolves are among the most endangered mammals in the world. North Carolina is home the to last known wild population of red wolves. The Museum participates in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, a project aimed at preserving the species, their genetic viability, and maintaining a path forward for effective and safe re-introduction into the wild.

Last year, in the depths of what is now sometimes referred to as the “Anthropause” – a temporary halt to a huge amount of human activity due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the Museum took to passively recording natural sound in Explore the Wild in five-minute increments every hour.

On April 8, 2020, at 6 am, the recorder picked up an extraordinary occurrence of the anthrophony – the collective sounds made by humans, which were so diminished from the lockdown, interacting with the biophony, the collective sounds of biological non-human nature.

In this recording, you can hear three things: an ambulance traveling to a nearby hospital, followed by the small family of wolves at the Museum howling, followed by a collection of sounds believed to be a group of nearby coyotes. Listen for yourself:

It is important not to over-simplify or reduce animal behaviors to simple explanations, though it seems likely these sounds are connected. Red wolves tend to make other noises more often than howling, which seems largely reserved for re-connecting with pack members over long distances.

After years of observation, animal care specialists and staff at the Museum have noted that somewhere in the redshift, the change in the wavelength of the sound from the ambulance due to it getting closer or further away from the listener (this is why if you’re near a moving ambulance, it sounds like wwwwweeeeEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAUUUUUUUuuuuuwwwwww!), it seems to sound to the red wolves at the Museum like other wolves howling from a distance, and will sometimes elicit a howl.

And then, of course, the coyotes, a genetically distinct, though close, species relative to the red wolf, which can now be found in all 100 counties in North Carolina. Along with helping to stay in contact with distant packmates, howling can also serve to keep rival neighbors at bay – perhaps a vocalization on display from a pack emboldened by a lack of human activity.

Speaking of human activity – when the proposed rule about killing red wolves went out for public comment, 107,988 of the 108,124 comments filed advocated for strong federal protections for red wolves.

Like the wolves, sometimes it is important to raise our voices as well.