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Suzanne Agan, Ph.D., is a 2020 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Lisabeth L. Willey, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Jimmy W. Karlan, EdD, Committee Member
  • Adrian Treves, Ph.D., Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2020

Abstract

In the 1970’s, red wolves were considered America’s most endangered mammalian species and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the Red Wolf Recovery Plan soon after passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to preserve and eventually reintroduce them. It marked the first successful attempt to reintroduce a large predator that had been completely extirpated from the wild. The conservation of predators, such as red wolves, stirs controversy when it hinders human activities and some people retaliate by illegal killing. In Northeastern North Carolina (NENC), poaching has been a problem throughout the entire recovery process and is the leading cause of death in this endangered wild population. Understanding the behaviors and attitudes of poachers, and other factors related to the illegal killing of red wolves, is critical to successful recovery of this endangered species. The overall goal of this interdisciplinary research, drawing on the fields of conservation biology, social psychology, geographic information systems, and wildlife management was to explore poaching risk, how attitudes contribute to poaching decisions, and then how social factors, along with ecological factors contribute to increased risk of red wolves being poached, reducing population viability. We found that poaching is responsible for more deaths than any other cause, and in particular those wolves that disappear need to be included in risk estimates. Our interviews and surveys revealed the amount of complexity involved in both attitudes and behavioral inclination with a majority of respondents showing positive attitudes toward both red wolves and their conservation and those who dislike them are in a small minority. Spatial analysis results suggest human-wolf interactions are spatially associated with landscape characteristics that are appealing to both species and that social variables such as behavioral inclination can strengthen the predictive power of models describing those interactions. Using research that considers both environmental and social variables such as ours can provide guidance for conservation and management interventions. Implementing proven practices that prevent poaching or hasten successful reintroduction can reverse the trend of a decreasing NENC red wolf population and once again allow red wolves to thrive, not only in NENC but additional future reintroduction sites.

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Suzanne Agan

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0002-3672-3011

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