SUAMICO, Wis. — The NEW Zoo in Suamico is among those across the country that are breeding red wolves in an effort to rebuild the endangered species in the wild.

Two months ago, a red wolf named Mayo gave birth to healthy pups at the zoo, Green Bay Press-Gazette Media reported (http://gbpg.net/1kGyqjA ). On Friday, the six pups poked their heads out of their shelter to peek at a zoo worker who put out bowls of food.

"They're just now getting to the state where they're all over the place and spending more time awake and wrestling," said Carmen Murach, the zoo's curator of animals.

Murach said it's not yet decided whether the pups at the Green Bay zoo will be released back into the wild. They may be relocated to other zoos once they're mature adults in a couple of years.

But to prepare them for success in case they are released into the wild, the zoo limits human interaction and does not feed the babies by hand.

"These little pups are adorable and cute but also so important," she said.

In 1973, the red wolf was declared endangered in the wild, said Will Waddell, the red wolf species survival plan coordinator from Point Defiance Zoo in Washington state.

By 1980, only 14 red wolves remained in the wild. All were captured and placed in captivity, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the animal was extinct in the wild. For the past 24 years, the red wolf population has slowly grown as they've been bred in captivity and released into the wild, Waddell said.

"In zoos, they're doing pretty well," said Waddell. He said 209 are in captivity and approximately 100 are in the wild. "They're stable and it's something we evaluate every year."

Although the red wolf population is growing, Waddell said the wolves aren't doing well once released into their natural habitat. Many have been shot by people or hit by cars.