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Endangered and Threatened Species

The Museum exhibits seven animals that are on either federal or state endangered or threatened lists or are protected:

  • Red Wolf – Federally endangered
  • Blackbanded Sunfish- state endangered
  • Eastern Chicken Turtle – state endangered
  • Eastern Tiger Salamander – state endangered
  • Canebrake Rattlesnake – state endangered
  • Shortnose Sturgeon – federally endangered
  • Wood Turtle – state threatened

American Red Wolf Species Survival Program

The Virginia Living Museum participates in the federal program to reintroduce red wolves into the wild. In colonial times, red wolves ranged throughout the southeast. Today they are the most endangered mammal in North America. The Museum is the closest facility to Alligator River, the only place in the country where red wolves currently live in the wild.


The red wolf is a critically endangered mammal-one of the most endangered mammals in the world.  There are over 200 in human care, but only 20 or so left in the wild.  The red wolf was listed as endangered in 1967.  In 1977, the first litter of red wolves was born in a captive breeding program, the first of its kind for a large carnivore, and a model for future recovery programs for other species.  In 1987, experimental releases began of these captive born wolves in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina.  The program became quite successful, reaching a high of approximately 125 wolves on the refuge.  They were breeding in the wild again and it was hoped they were getting close to being self-sustaining.  The hallmark of the program was cross-fostering.  Cross-fostering involves taking captive born wolf pups with their eyes closed and placing them with a wild mother with the same age pups.  She accepts these pups as her own, raising them to be self-sufficient.  When the recovery program is active and healthy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers are aware of wild dens are in the wild and can make the necessary recommendations for fostering.  When our pups were born, no mother with pups of the same age could be located.

Unfortunately, in the last five years or so, the situation for the red wolf in the wild has become dire.  Large numbers of coyotes have moved in to the wolf recovery area, and some interbreeding has occurred.  Legal conflicts restricting coyote hunting to prevent wolf kills due to mistaken identity has led to misunderstandings and hard feelings in red wolf country.   All of this has led to a fairly rapid decline in wild wolf numbers.  The American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other committed wildlife advocates are working hard to come to a resolution to reinstate the release of red wolves in the wild.  One possible solution is to find additional release sites.  The breeding program is still active in zoos (known as the Species Survival Plan), as an assurance for the time when the fostering of pups can continue to support a healthy population of wild red wolves.

The red wolf is a beautiful animal that once flourished throughout the southeastern United States.  This species fills an important niche in the ecosystem.  Deer populations have been documented to be healthier where they co-exist, and they help to control the populations of meso-predators, such as raccoons.  It is the only large carnivore with its range completely within the United States.


The Virginia Living Museum’s red wolves are part of the Federal Species Survival Program (SSP) which oversees the population’s management of select species within American Zoo Association member institutions.

Historically, red wolves ranged all over the southeastern United States. In 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a captive breeding program to begin restoring the red wolf population and reintroducing the animals into the wild. The VLM has been part of the program since 2002. Today, about 50 red wolves roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina. The Virginia Living Museum is one of 38 zoos, nature centers, and museums that participate in the federal captive breeding program. The mission is to help the red wolves increase their numbers through research, captive breeding, and reintroduction of the species into the wild.

Lined Seahorse SSP

The Virginia Living Museum actively participates in AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) program that coordinates with other AZA – accredited facilities across the country to manage and conserve wild populations of the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus). Through captive breeding and exchange with other institutions, we can ensure a genetically diverse captive population of seahorses without collecting animals from the wild. The VLM currently houses several successful breeding pairs of lined seahorses that regularly produce healthy offspring. These particular seahorses were born and bred here at the VLM in early winter of 2013 and have provided us with enough captive bred seahorses not only to display for many years to come, but also with a surplus of animals to send to other SSP facilities around the country.

Sea Turtle Tag and Release Program

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is one of the largest reptiles found on earth today. Listed as a threatened species, it faces the same threats as other sea turtles: heavy exploitation for its meat, eggs, shells and oil and from being entangled in shrimp nets, gill nets and on the hooks of long lines.

The Virginia Living Museum has exhibited Loggerhead Sea Turtles in past years. For several years we have worked with the Head-Start Program at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Juvenile sea turtles are acquired from nests in southern North Carolina and then raised for several years in captivity before being tagged and released into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Virginia Living Museum has released five turtles back into the wild as part of the Head-Start Program: Virginia in 2010, Abby in 2013, Abe in 2016, Coco in 2017 and Gingersnap in 2018. The first three turtles had tracking tags affixed to the top of their shell. You can follow their journeys and the journeys of sea turtles around the world on this website

Read about our Sea Turtle Tag & Release Program.

Turtle Census

In summer 2010 the Virginia Living Museum began a multi-year project to conduct a census of the basking turtles in Deer Park Lake at the Museum, using staff and middle school students. The goal of the study is to determine the ratio of non-native red-eared slider turtles to the native turtles that make the lake their home. In addition to learning about turtle identification, biology, behavior and threats to these animals, students have assisted staff in taking data on our local turtles. The turtles are collected in live traps and later released back into the lake. Students participated in the project in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Since 2013 the survey has been conducted by VLM staff and volunteers. Species collected: northern red-bellied cooter, eastern painted turtle, yellow-bellied slider, stinkpot, red-bellied slider and snapping turtle. Read more…

Monarch Rearing

When you visit the VLM from mid September to early October, stop by our monarch butterfly rearing chamber to see the caterpillars, chrysalides and adults on display. In the late afternoons you might be able to participate in our release of tagged monarchs.

You can follow the monarch migration on two web sites:

Also read about our VLM Butterfly Resources & Monarch Tag & Release Program.