Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Red Wolf (Canis rufus)

Red Wolf (Canis rufus) photo by John Froschauer, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Tacoma, WA.

Status: Endangered

Description and Life History: A medium-sized, wild canid, the red wolf resembles the coyote but is larger and more robust. Its legs and ears are relatively longer than the coyote's. The red wolf's coloration is similar to that of the coyote, but the tawny element is more pronounced, and the pelage is usually somewhat coarser. This species is slightly smaller than the gray wolf (C. lupus) with a more slender and elongated head. It's pelage is shorter and coarser than in any race of lupus.

Range and Population Level: The red wolf was once found throughout the southeastern United States, from the Atlantic coast to central Texas and from the Gulf Coast to central Missouri and southern Illinois. Between the period of 1900 to 1920, red wolves were extirpated from most of the eastern portion of their range. A small number persisted in the wild in southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana until the late 1970s. By 1980, the species was determined to be extinct in the wild.

Currently, there is an experimental population of red wolves which is being managed from the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Habitat: The last red wolves were found in coastal prairie and marsh habitat because this was the last area in which the animals were allowed to remain. Any habitat area in the southeastern United States of sufficient size, which provides adequate food, water, and the basic cover requirement of heavy vegetation, should be suitable habitat for the red wolf. Telemetry studies indicate that red wolf home range requirements vary from about 25 to 50 square miles.

Reason for Current Status: The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids. Once common throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf populations were 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. After being declared an endangered species in 1973, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible. Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. 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 1.5 million acres.

For More Information on the Red Wolf...

Red Wolf Recovery Program

Species Contact:

Joe Madison, Assistant Field Supervisor, Red Wolf Recovery Program, 252-473-1132 ext. 245

Last Updated: November 10, 2020