What is a Red Wolf?
Photo: J. Froshauer.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a native North American canid. Canids are the biological family of meat-eating animals that includes wolves, jackals, foxes, coyotes and the domestic dog.
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 wide heads with broad muzzles, 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.
Red wolves are social animals that live in packs, and like human families, a pack is a very close-knit group. Typical packs consist five to eight animals including a breeding adult pair and their offspring of different years. Older offspring will often assist the breeding pair in pup rearing. Almost all offspring between one and two years of age will leave the pack or "disperse" to form their own pack.
Red wolves tend to form pair-bonds for life and mate once a year in February. Pups are typically born in April or May in well-hidden in dens that may 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.
Wolf packs have specific territories that they actively defend against other canids (dog-like animals), including other wolves. Most active at dusk and dawn, red wolves are elusive and generally avoid humans and human activity.
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.
Photo: B. McPhee.
Current Population Status
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 animals (see "Wild by the Numbers" at left for most recent data), many of which are outfitted with radio collars and inhabit a five-county area in eastern North Carolina covering 1.7 million acres. Approximately 200 red wolves are held in 40+ captive breeding facilities participating in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan across the United States.