Red Wolf Recovery Program
Southeast Region

Questions and Answers

Father wolf with Pups
Photo Credit: Greg Koch

Red Wolf Recovery Program Review

1) Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) conducting a review for the red wolf recovery program?

The Service recognized a need to gather additional science and research to help us better guide recovery of the red wolf in the wild under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To that end, the Service announced in June it would engage state partners and key stakeholders in conducting a review that will support the agency’s future recovery planning and implementation actions for red wolves.

2) What are the issues the Service will consider in the review of the recovery program?

The Service is working closely with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, academia, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners to gather the best available science on four components:

  1. 1) appropriate taxonomic designation and historic distribution of the red wolf;
  2. 2) long-term viability of the captive red wolf population;
  3. 3) recovery needs of the red wolf population given pressures such as hybridization with coyotes, human caused mortality, and climate change; and
  4. 4) how people and red wolves can co-exist.

3) What is a recovery team?

Section 4(f) of the ESA allows for the Service to establish a recovery team of appropriate public and private agencies, organizations and individuals to assist in the development and implementation of recovery plans for federally protected species. These teams serve at the request of a FWS Regional Director.

4) Why did the Service convene a new red wolf recovery team?

The Service is convening a new red wolf recovery team to provide expanded expertise and support as current challenges to recovering red wolves in the wild are addressed. The primary task for the recovery planning team, led by the science experts, will be to review the best available information provided for the each of four components. They have already started the process and are expected to convene in early December. The team will then develop a recommendation to the Service on recovery of the red wolf that reconciles updated science and provides guidance on priority implementation tasks to address the current challenges on the landscape facing recovery of this imperiled species.

5) How did the Service select the red wolf recovery team members?

The red wolf recovery team members have been selected based on professional scientific expertise or experience in one or more of the four components of the review, as well as their capacity to help with the next steps in recovery planning and implementation.

The diverse composition of the recovery team reflects the Service’s commitment to ensure its actions are first, and foremost, grounded in sound science while also addressing any identified shortcomings of our past recovery efforts, especially in terms of engaging landowners in recovery planning and program implementation.

6) Is it typical to have non-biologists on a recovery team?

Yes. Recovery teams are often used to bring together the diversity of expertise necessary to develop an effective recovery program for a federally protected species and help with its implementation. This concept proved very valuable for the manatee recovery efforts. Recover teams provide numerous advantages including: focusing best available science, increasing depth of expertise, and providing a mechanism for multiple agencies and engaged stakeholders to interact and participate in the planning and implementation of actions necessary to recover and sustain the listed species.

Service Halts Red Wolf Reintroductions Pending Examination of Recovery Program

1) What are the Service’s future plans for managing the Eastern North Carolina NonEssential Experimental Red Wolf Population?

We will continue to manage the Red Wolf Non-Essential Experimental Population (NEP) in accordance with our existing rule and regulation at 50 C.F.R. § 17.84(c). In keeping with our rule, we will no longer release red wolves from our captive population into the recovery area, which is comprised of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. The Service is keenly aware that the conservation and recovery of the red wolf cannot be accomplished through its efforts alone. Accordingly, we will work proactively to strengthen our relationships with the State of North Carolina, our partners, and landowners, whose cooperation will be vital to conserving and recovering the species.

The Wildlife Management Institute’s (WMI) recently completed evaluation of our Red Wolf Recovery Program and management history of the NEP highlights the need for us to further analyze whether recovery of the red wolf in the wild is feasible at this time. We have already begun to evaluate the NEP and its role in the overall recovery effort of the red wolf. We will continue our evaluation by engaging in additional scientific research into the feasibility of recovering the species via the NEP and anticipate completion of this process by the end of 2015.

2) What are some of the actions the Service will undertake to manage the presence of Red Wolves on Private Lands within the NEP area?

Red wolves are federally-listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, and, therefore, protected on public and private lands. We will, however, continue our efforts to remove red wolves from private lands when requested to do so by the landowner. Private landowners also will be allowed to take animals when authorized by a permit in accordance with our regulation.

Red wolves removed from private lands will be released onto the Alligator River or Pocosin Lake national wildlife refuge. If a wolf has a health or behavioral problem, it will not be returned to the wild but placed in captivity or disposed of in accordance with our management protocols.

We have a variety of other tools and programs available to private landowners who are interested in allowing wildlife management activities for the NEP and other species to occur on their lands. We are developing additional tools and programs to enable landowners to collaborate in managing the NEP.

3) Why has the Service decided not to terminate the NEP at this juncture?

The NEP is the only red wolf population in this country that exists in the wild. It has and continues to provide valuable information on the species’ biology and management. Since there are no other red wolf populations in the wild, we need to maintain this population to learn more about the species such as its dispersal patterns, interaction with coyotes, preferred habitats, and susceptibility to diseases as well as matters associated with managing the species. We have learned much about the red wolf from our management activities and research on the NEP, but many questions that are essential to recovery of the species remain and can only be answered through further study of the NEP. Accordingly, those red wolves that are already on the landscape will remain there unless circumstances require the return of an animal to captivity.

4) Are you removing the wolves from the landscape?

No. Those red wolves already in the wild will remain there, and the Service will continue to work with landowners who have red wolves on their property and want them removed. The Service is, however, stopping the release of red wolves into the wild at this time as well.

5) Were Section 7 consultations completed for all the releases of any wolves from captivity into the wild?

No, consultation was only completed in 1986 for up to six mated pairs of wolves to be released from captivity. The determination at that time was that the species’ reproductive vigor in captivity was secured and its survival was biologically assured. However, all additional releases of captive animals were coordinated with the Species Survival Plan facilities to ensure no negative impacts to the captive population. Releases on private lands occurred with at least verbal permission of the landowner.

6) Why is the Service conducting a feasibility review of the NEP when it already has the review that was conducted by the Wildlife Management Institute at the Service’s request?

Adult red wolf photographed from the side slowly walking forward
Adult Red wolf. Photo Credit: Brad McPhee, Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

The Wildlife Management Institute was asked to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the science, management, and human dimensions related to the NEP. The evaluation identified areas in which our management actions have been successful as well as those areas that need improvement. The Institute also highlighted a number of areas in which there is uncertainty as well as issues that pose serious challenges to the ultimate recovery of the red wolf in the wild. The scope of our feasibility review will be broader and focus on questions and issues related to whether the overall recovery of the red wolf in the wild is truly attainable in light of the challenges identified in the Institute’s evaluation.

7) What are some of the issues that the Service will consider in the feasibility review of the recovery program?

We will consider whether there are management techniques available to sufficiently ensure the red wolf’s genetic makeup; whether there are geographical areas within the species’ historical range that are suitable to serve as core red wolf population sites; if there are suitable geographical areas, whether there is sufficient public and state support in each of those areas to establish three core red wolf populations in accordance with the Red Wolf Recovery Plan; and, whether the red wolf can co-exist with coyotes in the wild. The feasibility review, which will be completed in 2015, will address:

Are management techniques available sufficient to ensure the red wolf’s genetic makeup?

Are there areas within the historic range suitable for serving as a core red wolf population sites across its historic range?

Is there enough public and state support in each of these areas for the establishment of three such populations?

Can the red wolf exist in the presence of coyotes?

8) What canid species occur in the NEP area?

The canids that occur in the NEP area include red wolves, coyotes, and hybrids from interbreeding between red wolves and coyotes. The Service began managing red wolf hybridization with coyotes in 2000. Since then, the amount of coyote DNA in the NEP has decreased to less than four percent (Gese et al. 2015).

9) Is the red wolf really a distinct species?

Although there is disagreement within the scientific community regarding the taxonomy and genetic ancestry of the species, the Service recognizes the red wolf as a distinct species and has listed it as such under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The Service plans to work with its partners to delve further into this issue, with the goal of finding a definitive resolution to this debate.

10) Why are the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the NEP important to the Service?

Our September 1987, release of red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge marked the first time in this nation’s history that a federally-listed species was reintroduced to the historic range from which it had been extirpated. Prior to this reintroduction, the nation’s remaining red wolf populations existed solely in captivity. Later, other wolf reintroductions, which were modeled on our program, such as that of the gray wolf into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, have occurred as a means to recover wolf species in the wild. We have learned a great deal about the red wolf from the NEP, including, but not limited to, the species’ dispersal patterns and need for large home ranges. We also have acquired knowledge about the extent to which coyotes threaten red wolves through gene introgression and the importance of maintaining intact red wolf breeding pairs to counter hybridization and coyote expansion. We have gained an increased appreciation of the value and necessity of working in partnership with the state and in effectively engaging and supporting private landowners in our reintroduction effort.

For questions specifically related to the evaluation completed by the Wildlife Management Institute, an internal review of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and other information related to the red wolf, visit the evalutation page.

Wildlife Management Institute's Program Evaluation Findings

A red wolf alertly looking into the distance
Photo Credit: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

1) How is the Service going to use the evaluation findings?

The evaluation completed by the Wildlife Management Institute is currently being used to inform a broader internal agency evaluation regarding the future of the nonessential experimental population in Eastern North Carolina. Program evaluations are a normal practice with any recovery program to ensure optimal effectiveness. It is part of an internal review process now underway. We will be consulting with key agency personnel as well as the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission throughout the process, however, the final decision will be made by the Service’s Southeast Regional Director.

2) What type of information did the Fish and Wildlife Service provide Wildlife Management Institute for the program review?

We provided numerous documents including Federal Register notices, national wildlife refuge Environmental Assessments, red wolf recovery plans, red wolf mortality tables, budgets, landowner agreements, and other agency documents. These are listed in Appendix D of the evaluation and are available for download on our website at

3) The Service reported some discrepancies in the number of comments received during the public comment period, specifically, comments received via email. Why did this happen and how has it been handled?

4) The Service relies on Gmail for its email services. To gather comments from the public, the Service established a specific email address. When emails started to come in large numbers with the same text and title automatic Google filters treated them like automated spam attacks and blocked them from the Service’s Red Wolf email account presuming the network was being hacked. After becoming aware of this, the Service posted a press release extending the comment period for another two weeks.

5) Once the Service announces its decision, will the public have an opportunity to comment?

No. Once a decision is reached regarding the future of the non-essential experimental population, it will not be subject to public comment.

6) If the project in Eastern North Carolina ends, is that the end for the red wolf recovery in the wild?

No, our goal and task to recover the species remains the same. So long as the red wolf is listed as an endangered species the Service will continue to work towards the recovery goal in the Red Wolf Recovery Plan that calls for three self-sustaining wild populations distributed through the historic range of the species.

7) What is the difference between the overall Red Wolf Recovery effort and the non-essential, experimental population in Eastern North Carolina?

There are currently two red wolf populations: the non-essential experimental population in Eastern North Carolina, consisting of 90-110 wild wolves, and the captive population consisting of approximately 190 wolves. Both of these populations contribute to our agency’s efforts to recover the species. The wild population – established under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act – is “non-essential” because, based on the best available science, loss of the nonessential experimental population would not result in extinction of the species.

8) Why did the Service establish a non-essential experimental population?

Designation as a non-essential experimental population allows for reduced regulatory restrictions off of federal lands, which benefits private landowners, and increases management flexibility for the Service as it to reintroduce a species into the wild.

Red Wolf Background

1) Why is the Fish And Wildlife Service (USFWS) restoring red wolves (Canis rufus)?

The essential reasons are to prevent extinction of the species and to restore the ecosystems in which red wolves occurred, as mandated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The ESA found that endangered and threatened species are of aesthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational and scientific value to the Nation and its people. It is important to save all members of an ecosystem, including predators, if we intend to conserve the environment and be good stewards of the land. Lessons learned in the red wolf recovery program have served as a model for predator conservation worldwide.

2) What do red wolves look like?

Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs, often with a reddish color on their ears, head and legs. Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves and larger than coyotes. Adult red wolves range in weight from about 53 to 84 pounds. Red wolves have tall pointed ears and long, slender legs with large feet. Red wolves stand about 26 inches at their shoulder and are about 4 feet long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.

3) Did red wolves ever exist in North Carolina?

Based on fossil and archaeological evidence, the original red wolf range extended throughout the southeast, from as far north as southern New England, south to Florida and as far west as Texas and central Missouri. At least one archaeological specimen has been found in North Carolina. In addition, court records from eastern North Carolina indicate that wolf bounties were paid from 1768 to 1789. The Cherokee Indians called the red wolf, “Wa’ya.”

A map showing the historic range of red wolves spanning from the northeastern to southern United States

Map of the red wolf historic range.

4) Do red wolves hybridize with coyotes?

Red wolves, gray wolves, domestic dogs and coyotes are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. Social structures and territoriality usually prevent such interbreeding. By 1960, widespread persecution of predators and the destruction of habitat had caused a decline in red wolf numbers and the coyote began to migrate into the southeast. As a result, some of the remaining red wolves were unable to find mates of their own species and they began to hybridize with the more abundant coyote. Hybridization is usually accepted as the final factor that resulted in the near extinction of the red wolf. Given a choice, red wolves prefer red wolves as mates. The primary recovery focus is to protect and promote the growth of a self-sustaining, non-hybridizing population of red wolves in the wild and sustain an active captive component.

5) How many red wolves currently exist?

Red wolf numbers continue to fluctuate with annual birth and death rates. The wild red wolf population in eastern North Carolina is estimated at nearly 50-75 animals, many of which are outfitted with radio collars, that range across a 5-county area covering 1.7 million acres. Approximately 175 red wolves are held in about 40 captive breeding facilities across the United States.

6) How does the USFWS keep track of the wolves?

A red wolf can “range” anywhere from 500 acres to 46,000 acres, depending on such factors as available habitat and prey, pack size and season of the year. Each red wolf that is captured or released is outfitted with a collar containing a radio transmitter, which emits pulse signals or "beeps" that biologists can read with a radio receiver. On the ground, wildlife biologists can receive a telemetry signal from up to 1.5 miles in good conditions. Aerial telemetry allows a range of 20 miles using fixed-wing aircraft. These signals enable the biologists to track red wolf locations and activities. Monitoring of these signals can vary from twice daily to once a week, depending on specific circumstances. Since the estimated lifespan for red wolves is up to 15 years in captivity, and six or seven in the wild, their collars must be changed every few years due to battery life.

7) Are red wolves a threat to humans?

There have been no documented cases of healthy wild red wolves attacking humans in North America, despite 500 years of historical coexistence. Wild red wolves are shy and tend to stay away from humans. However, if threatened or cornered, wolves are capable of injuring humans. Therefore, all wildlife including red wolves should not be approached in order to avoid injury to the animal or the people involved. They are primarily nocturnal (active at night) and communicate by scent marking, vocalizations (including howling), facial expressions and body postures.

8) What do red wolves eat?

Although the exact diet of red wolves varies depending on available prey, it usually consists of a combination of white-tailed deer, raccoons and smaller mammals such as rabbits, rodents and nutria. The red wolf is an opportunistic feeder and can travel up to 20 miles a day or more to find food which can be consumed at a rate of two to five pounds daily.

9) Do red wolves live and / or hunt in packs?

The primary social structure of red wolves is simply defined as an extended family unit or "pack". Red wolves tend to form pair-bonds for life and mate once a year in February. Pups are born about 63 days later in April or May and well hidden in dens that can be located in hollow trees, stream banks and sand knolls. Dens have also been found in holes dug in the ground near downed logs or forest debris piles. A typical pack consists of five to eight members, which includes a breeding adult pair and offspring of different years. Wolf packs have specific territories that they actively defend against other canids (dog-like animals), including other wolves. The pack is a very close-knit social group. In fact, older offspring will often assist the breeding pair in pup rearing. Almost all offspring between 1 and 2 years of age will leave the pack or "disperse" to form their own pack.

10) What does a red wolf on private land mean to the landowner?

All wild red wolves are classified as experimental nonessential under the ESA. This designation is not intended to have an effect on individual landowner rights. In fact, legally designated habitat cannot be established for experimental nonessential species under the ESA. In the case of livestock or domestic pet depredation, relaxed regulations were passed in 1995, which allow landowners to take (kill) red wolves while depredation is occurring, provided that freshly wounded livestock or pets are evident. There are also mechanisms for landowners to be monetarily compensated if they choose to become involved with red wolf recovery. Approximately 60% of the red wolf population can be found on private lands within the recovery area. Red wolves generate benefits for landowners by preying on species such as deer, raccoons and nutria that can be pests on farms. Additionally, the presence of a pack of red wolves is likely to limit the distribution of coyotes in that area. Cooperating with private landowners is an integral component of the Red Wolf Recovery Program.

Last Updated: 11/12/15