History of the Red Wolf Recovery Program
With the red wolf being one of the world’s most endangered wild canids, it was imperative for the United States to create a recovery program. The red wolf population was decimated by the 1960s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana. In 1973, red wolves were declared an endangered species. Efforts were initiated to locate and capture the remaining wild wolves found in the Louisiana and Texas coast area.
Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. The founding red wolves had to be a pure bred species, meaning not a mixed breed of wolf and coyote. Consequently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild in 1980.
By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program on Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Since then, the experimental population area has expanded to include three national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state-owned lands, and private property, spanning a total of 1.7 million acres.
In 2013, there were 34 pups born among 7 litters in the wild population, plus one fostered pup. In the captive population, there were five pups born within one litter.
Approximately 50-75 red wolves roam their native habitats in five northeastern North Carolina counties and approximately 200 comprise the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan captive breeding program in sites across the United States, still an essential element of red wolf recovery. Interbreeding with the coyote (an exotic species not native to North Carolina) has been recognized as the most significant and detrimental threat affecting restoration of red wolves in this section of their historical home range. Currently, adaptive management efforts are making good progress in reducing the threat of coyotes while building the wild red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina.
Want to follow all the field activities of the Red Wolf Recovery Program? Check out the blog, Return of the Red Wolf: Tales from the Swamp, for weekly updates!