On August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare became the first child born to English parents in the New World. Her birthplace—on Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina—was Britain's first attempt at colonizing this continent, and was the site of the first recorded British murder of an Indian chief. Though Dare's band of settlers did not survive intact, Roanoke Island was the beginning of the historical process in which English-speaking Europeans settled and subdued North America over the next four centuries.
On September 14, 1987, 400 years later, a team of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office on Roanoke Island opened the gate of a pen and released a pair of red wolves wearing radio collars into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The animals disappeared into the woods perhaps half an hour's drive from the spot where Dare was born. Their species was the first ever to go extinct in the North American wild and then be reintroduced into the natural world from a remnant population in zoos. They were, as surely as Dare, pioneers.
The forces set in motion by European colonization had all but erased red wolves from the continent: settlers made wolves a symbol of the devil, placed bounties on their heads, organized state and federal predator control programs, and farmed and developed their last few strongholds. The Roanoke Island biologists have watched and listened for the past eight years as the animals they released have reproduced and spread across the refuge's swampy, mosquito-infested 150,000 acres. As of this winter the biologists had counted sixty-one wild-born puppies. One wild-born female had borne four litters, and one of her pups had in turn given birth; a third generation of wild red wolves was howling in the night.