The Red wolf – one of the rarest animals in the United States – is on the fast track to extinction due to illegal poaching. With estimates of less than 100 endangered red wolves left in the wild, conservationists are incensed by the recent announcement that yet another red wolf has been shot dead in North Carolina—a total of nine deaths this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other concerned groups are offering a $26,000 reward for information on the shooting.

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The North American red wolf, once a populous species that roamed the southeastern United States, became nearly extinct due to relentless hunting and habitat destruction. In the 1980s, an aggressive reintroduction and captive breeding program was launched to repopulate the species. Illegal shootings, however, have thwarted recovery efforts.

Since red wolves are protected under The Endangered Species Act, killing a red wolf is a crime punishable by one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Some environmental groups, however, suspect that some of the killings may have been accidental. Since coyote hunting was recently legalized in the Red Wolf Recovery Area, hunters may have mistaken red wolves for their smaller, more populous counterpart.

Via Treehugger

Images via Wikimedia, USFWS Headquarters