"Constellation (Canis rufus)"
Pen and sumi ink, gouache, and watercolor on Arches paper
15 x 12 inches
My 2010 drawing "Constellation (Canis rufus)" has been made into a limited edition print for the Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). The drawing features the red wolf (Canis rufus), a critically endangered wolf species.
I wrote the following description of the red wolf and its plight for the ESPP website:
"The Red Wolf (Canis rufus) is a medium-sized North American canid, generally larger than a coyote but smaller than the gray wolf. As the common name suggests, red wolves often have reddish fur on and around their ears, neck, and legs. Like other wolves, the Red Wolf is a social species that lives in packs, groups typically comprised of a mated pair and their offspring (of multiple generations). Red Wolves are crepuscular predators, most active at dusk and at dawn. They prey on white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and rodents, but are also known to scavenge.As per the ESPP model, this is a limited edition of 100 prints, the number determined by the featured animal's current wild population. The print measures 8 x 10 inches, and costs a mere $50.00. ALL proceeds from sale of the prints will be donated to the Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Red Wolf Recovery Program.
The Red Wolf once occupied a range that extended over the forests, swamps, and coastal plains of the southern and eastern areas of the United States, as far west as Texas and as far north as New York. As with most non-domesticated canines, however, the Red Wolf was vilified as a dangerous competitor of man (and, erroneously, a "man-eater"). These entrenched, negative attitudes gave rise to aggressive predator control campaigns; wolves were poisoned, shot, and trapped. This persecution was compounded by habitat loss and disease, taking a terrible toll on red wolf populations. By 1980, the species was extinct in the wild.
Today, though, there is good news. Thanks to several focused preservation and reintroduction programs, and especially to the efforts of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), in conjunction with programs like that at Mill Mountain Zoo, the Red Wolf is staging a small, isolated recovery. There are now approximately 100 wolves living wild in eastern North Carolina and up to 250 individuals in zoo-based captive breeding programs."
As I explain in the ESPP artist notes, my fascination with taxonomy increased my interest in researching this particular species:
"Ecology, wildlife biology, and natural history are subjects that I'm passionate about, and I'm especially intrigued by taxonomy, the classification of different species. The ever-evolving field's binomial nomenclature is chock-a-block with curious etymological backstories and, more importantly, taxonomists are endlessly debating species classification. Names change, species become subspecies (and vice versa), and protected animals become unprotected animals on what seems to be a month-to-month basis! The red wolf is no exception. It's an honor to produce an artwork that may, in some small way, help save a keystone predator from extinction and genetic isolation; I must admit, however, that I also planned to use the print as an excuse to learn more about the particulars of the red wolf taxonomic debate.Visit the ESPP site to learn more and, during this holiday season, please consider helping the species by buying a print as a gift.
Some wildlife biologists insist that the red wolf's scientific name is Canis lupus rufus and that the animal is a subspecies of gray wolf (Canis lupus). Another camp, one that the US Fish & Wildlife Service concurs with, believes the wolf to be a species distinct from the gray wolf. It is their classification, Canis rufus, that I use in the species description above. Frankly, both groups make valid arguments; the different verdicts depend on whether the red wolf is classified according to the biological classification rule (i.e., if Wolf A can make viable pups with Wolf B, the two wolves belong to the same species) or the phenotypic/phylogenetic approach to classification, based on distinct physiological or genetic characteristics. Because the phenotypic/phylogenetic approach leads to a great many more species, it remains a source of contention within wildlife biologist communities and complicates conservation politics, for better and for worse.
Of primary importance, though, are the animals. Whether red wolves are ultimately deemed their own species or a subspecies of gray wolf, they're on the brink of extinction. There is ample cause for hope, however, and you can make that hope a little more concrete by purchasing a print!"