Evaluating how management policies affect red wolf mortality and disappearance

Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Suzanne Agan, Kennesaw State University
Joseph W. Hinton, Wolf Conservation Center
Adrian Treves, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Poaching is the major cause of death for large carnivores in several regions, contributing to their global endangerment. The traditional hypothesis used in wildlife management (killing for tolerance) suggests reducing protections for a species will decrease poaching. However, recent studies suggest reducing protections will instead increase poaching (facilitated illegal killing) and its concealment (facilitated cryptic poaching). Here, we build survival and competing risk models for mortality and disappearances of adult collared red wolves (Canis rufus) released in North Carolina, USA from 1987 to 2020 (n = 526). We evaluated how changes in federal and state policies protecting red wolves influenced the hazard and incidence of mortality and disappearance. We observed substantial increases in the hazard and incidence of red wolf reported poaching, and smaller increases in disappearances, during periods of reduced federal and state protections (including liberalizing hunting of coyotes, C. latrans); whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and American black bear (Ursus americanus) hunting seasons; and management phases. Observed increases in hazard (85-256%) and incidence of reported poaching (56-243%) support the 'facilitated illegal killing' hypothesis. We suggest improving protective policies intended to conserve endangered species generally and large carnivores in particular, to mitigate environmental crimes and generally improve the protection of wild animals.