- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - An endangered red wolf in eastern North Carolina was apparently illegally shot to death, wildlife officials said Friday.

The red wolf was wearing a radio collar, which allows officials to track the animal, and was found dead on Sept. 30 in Tyrrell County, state and federal officials said in a news release. Wildlife officials maintain the only wild population of the wolf in eastern North Carolina.

It’s the third red wolf to die in 2014 from a suspected gunshot. Seven others have died of various causes, including two by auto accident.

About 100 red wolves currently roam the wild in eastern North Carolina, and about 200 are in captive breeding programs in several locations in the U.S. They were first released into the wilderness under the program in 1987. The red wolf had been considered extinct in the wild as of 1980, though captive breeding programs existed.

While it’s not a crime to kill a red wolf in certain circumstances - such as a farmer protecting livestock - authorities are investigating the death as an illegal killing. The news release said the red wolf had been dead for several days before it was found.

Asked what made the death suspicious, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom MacKenzie said: “Generally, since no one came forward to say they had shot it would lead to suspicion that it was not done in a legal manner.”

Authorities are offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to a successful prosecution.

Wildlife officials are currently considering whether to maintain the red wolf population. Nearly 48,000 comments were submitted during a period for the public to weigh in.

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