Skip Navigation

Red Wolves

Learn More Red wolfCurrently, there are about 200 red wolves in 46 captive breeding facilities nationwide.

Red Wolf Howling Audio - Listen

The Red Wolves at Sewee

Learn More Red Wolves at Sewee

The Sewee Center is home for four endangered red wolves. On May 21, 2013 a male and female arrived from the captive facility at Alligator River NWR. The male sired six pups at the Sewee Center on April 8, 2014. One young male remains at the Sewee Center, paired with a female. With a population of approximately 200, the red wolf is one of the most endangered animals in North America today. Red wolves are housed at the Sewee Center for observation, education and breeding. These captive wolves help to ensure the genetic diversity of the species.

Red Wolves on Bulls Island

Learn More Red Wolf Pups Born April 2014

Cape Romain’s Bulls Island has played an integral role in the recovery of the endangered red wolf. Due to its protected geographic location and prey base, Bulls Island was chosen as an experimental release site. In 1978, the 9-month successful release of two wolves, John and Judy, demonstrated the feasibility of reintroduction into the wild. Bulls Island became the first island breeding site in 1987. On April 23, 1988, two young males were born. In the following years, young pups would roam the island, learning basic survival skills before relocation into the wild at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. On April 18, 2004 the last island litter of four, three females and one male, was born. Two weeks later, two females were moved to Alligator River NWR and placed in foster dens to be raised by wild females. In the early summer of 2005 the third female pup was relocated at Alligator River NWR and the young male was taken to Lincoln Zoo in Cincinnati, Ohio. The island breeding program closed in 2005. From 1987 to 2005, 26 pups were born at Bulls Island.

 

All About Red Wolves

Originally, the red wolf roamed as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as central Texas. Like its relative the gray wolf, the red wolf was extirpated from its former range by large scale predator control programs. By the late 1930s, only two populations are believed to have remained; one in the Ozark/Ouachita Mountain region of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and the other in southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Nearly extinct only a few decades ago, the red wolf recovery program began with the help of captive breeding and reintroduction programs. The wild red wolf program in northeastern North Carolina in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge region is currently under review.

The red wolf's name comes from the reddish coloring of the head, ears, and legs. However, its coloring can range from very light tan to black. Weighing 45 to 80 pounds, the red wolf is smaller than the gray wolf and larger than the coyote. Also, the head is broader than the coyote's but more narrow than the gray wolf's. The red wolf's most distinguishing features are the long ears and legs.

The exact classification of the red wolf has been debated for decades, with some authorities considering it a species, some considering it a sub-species of the gray wolf, and others considering it a hybrid, or cross-breed, of the coyote and the gray wolf.

In the wild, red wolves normally establish life-long mates. They reach breeding maturity in their second or third year and breed in February or March of each year. The female wolf, sometimes assisted by the male, finds or digs a suitable den in areas such as hollow logs, ditch banks, or under rock outcrops. Two to six pups are born in April or May. The pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent on their mother for about 2 months. They usually remain with the parents until reaching breeding maturity, forming small family groups, or packs. Red wolf packs generally use 10 to 100 square miles of habitat.

Red wolf packs are smaller than those of the gray wolf, and consist of an adult pair and young of the current and previous years. Similar to gray wolves, red wolves are very social and territorial, with aggression among pack members sometimes resulting in death. Unlike gray wolves which hunt in packs to take large hoofed animals, red wolves will hunt alone, in pairs, or with the family pack.

White-tailed deer and raccoon are the most important part of the red wolf's diet, but smaller animals, such as rabbit and nutria, are eaten when available. Red wolves will prey on small livestock in certain situations, but proper livestock husbandry can greatly reduce or eliminate these losses. With large livestock such as cattle, it is normally only the very young calves that are vulnerable.

Yet, it was the belief that the red wolf caused widespread cattle losses that led to extensive predator control programs in the early part of the 20th Century. Fear and a misunderstanding of the animals led to indiscriminate killing for bounties. The red wolf was also affected by land clearing and drainage projects, logging, mineral exploration, and road development that encroached on its forest habitat.

As predator control programs were carried out with a vengeance, the red wolf was totally removed from extensive areas of its former range, while in other areas its social structure was destroyed by removal of pack members. At the same time, deforestation in eastern Texas and Oklahoma caused an eastward surge of the coyote. These factors resulted in red wolf and coyote interbreeding when red wolves were unable to find mates of their own species.

All About Red Wolves Cont'd.

In 1967, the red wolf was listed as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a captive breeding program for the red wolf in 1973. Biologists began to remove remaining red wolves from the wild in an effort to save the species from extinction. These animals were taken to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Over a period of 6 years, more than 400 wolf-like canids were captured in Louisiana and Texas, but of this number, only 43 were considered red wolves and were placed in captivity. Further breeding experiments revealed that only 17 of the 43 were true red wolves, and only 14 of these successfully bred in captivity. By 1980, the red wolf was considered extinct in the wild.

In 1977, captive red wolf pairs produced their first litters. Biologists took great care to maintain the wild instincts of these animals and to avoid creating a dependence on man.

In 1987, four pairs of red wolves were reintroduced to the wild on the 120,000-acre Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Each wolf was equipped with a radio transmitter so that biologists could monitor their movements. Additional releases were made, and the first wild reproduction occurred in 1988. The reintroduction area was expanded to include additional federal and private lands, encompassing approximating 1.7 million acres. 

Early releases of the red wolves at Alligator River resulted in high mortality. Some animals that exhibited a tolerance of people were put at risk because of potential conflict with human activities. Therefore, several island projects were established to serve as pre-introduction sites where the wolves could have their first experience in the wild with limited human contact. Wolves placed on these islands have reproduced, and the packs have been able to roam freely. The adults and/or young are subsequently captured and used in the reintroduction project at the Alligator River Refuge. Three islands initially chosen as pre-introduction sites included Bulls Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, Horn Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi, and St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. 

Disease and parasites also caused mortality among the reintroduced red wolf population. Hookworm, heartworm, distemper, parvo virus, and others took their toll. Captive animals have been vaccinated against such maladies.

Currently, there are about 250-275 red wolves, including 202 in captivity and the rest in the wild--quite a comeback from the 14 animals making up the original captive breeding population. Today, there are 44 facilities nationwide where red wolves are bred in captivity.

Page Photo Credits — Red Wolf, Photo Credit: Ben Sumrell, Red Wolves at Sewee, Photo Credit: USFWS
, Red Wolf Pups Born April 2014, Photo Credit: Sarah Dawsey, Red Wolf Pup “Jewell”, Photo Credit: Karen Soltis
Last Updated: Jan 30, 2017
Return to main navigation