A red wolf who became the face of a long-standing effort to save his species from extinction was euthanized at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Tuesday.
Graham, 14, suffered from arthritis and mobility problems. A necropsy showed he had “internal disease,” the zoo said.
The wolf appeared on posters, in a graphic novel, on television and in magazines as the “poster child” of the Red Wolf Recovery program.
“We lost an icon among icons,” staff biologist Jennifer Donovan said. “He did great things for the red wolf story as a dynamic and highly photogenic ambassador for the typically shy and elusive species.”
Graham was conceived through artificial insemination and was born April 28, 2003 in a collaborative effort with the zoo and U.S. Fish & Wildlife to save the endangered species.
He went on to father several pups with mate Millie.
Mama wolf and two of their sons, Haywood and Hyde, still live at the zoo’s Red Wolf Woods habitat.
Visitors regularly gathered outside the habitat to watch Graham and snap photos. He lived there for 11 years after moving from the zoo’s off-site red wolf facility.
In recent years, Graham slowed down and appeared to experience stiffness when standing.
The median life expectancy for red wolves is 11 years.
“Graham will be greatly missed, but he leaves a legacy that will inspire us to continue our efforts to conserve this highly endangered species,” said Will Waddell, the zoo’s red wolf program supervisor.
Tacoma’s zoo pioneered the Red Wolf Recovery program in the 1970s when just 14 red wolves remained. Reintroduction efforts in northeastern North Carolina in 1987 brought the red wolf population to nearly 130 wolves by 2007.
That number has dropped to just 40 due to continued deaths from gunshots and other human conflict. Red wolves are often mistaken for coyotes in the wild.