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Captive red wolf at Species Survival Plan facility, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (Tacoma, WA). Photo by B. Bartel, USFWS.

Red wolf

Canis rufus

  • Taxon: Mammal
  • Range: Eastern North Carolina
  • Status: Designated an endangered species in 1967

Press Releases

  1. An inquisitive red wolf looks into the distance. Nov 29, 2018 | 1 minute read

    Service extends red wolf review in North Carolina

  2. A circular cloud formation as seen from space. Sep 12, 2018 | 3 minute read

    “Dramatic shift” in hurricane’s path

  3. A male red wolf looks on as two pups play Aug 10, 2018 | 3 minute read

    Service reopens comment period on new management rule for red wolves in North Carolina

  4. A red wolf in a full run on a grassy field. Jun 27, 2018 | 3 minute read

    Service proposes new management rule for non-essential, experimental population of red wolves in North Carolina

  5. A reddish grey wolf with yellow eyes. Apr 24, 2018 | 3 minute read

    Status review shows the red wolf remains endangered

  6. A wolf with grey and brown fur and tan eyes in front of a rock wall. Jul 6, 2017 | 2 minute read

    Federal and state officials request assistance in investigation of January 2017 red wolf death

  7. A citizen approaches a USFWS booth detailing the recovery of red wolves. Jun 9, 2017 | 1 minute read

    The Service explores management options for future red wolf recovery

  8. An adult red wolf walking stealthily in a caged enclosure at the zoo. May 22, 2017 | 3 minute read

    Future management of red wolf recovery effort subject of public meetings to be held by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

  9. A spiny flower with thin, bright purple petals. May 19, 2017 | 8 minute read

    2016 National and Regional Recovery Champions

  10. A grey colored wolf with bright yellow eyes walking low to the ground. Oct 31, 2016 | 2 minute read

    Five-year status review for red wolf officially launches

  11. An inquisitive red wolf looks into the distance. Sep 12, 2016 | 4 minute read

    Science leads Fish and Wildlife Service to significant changes for red wolf recovery

  12. A small reddish-brown wolf with a large collar around its neck Apr 22, 2016 | 2 minute read

    Federal and state officials request assistance in investigation of red wolf death

  13. An adult red wolf walking stealthily in a caged enclosure at the zoo. Oct 27, 2015 | 4 minute read

    Update: red wolf recovery review progressing towards recommendations

  14. A red wolf in a full run on a grassy field. Jun 30, 2015 | 3 minute read

    Service halts red wolf reintroductions pending examination of recovery program

  15. A grey colored wolf with bright yellow eyes walking low to the ground. Jun 25, 2015 | 2 minute read

    Service authorizes a private landowner to kill a red wolf

  16. A reddish grey wolf with yellow eyes. Nov 20, 2014 | 4 minute read

    Service receives red wolf program evaluation from WMI

  17. An adult red wolf walking stealthily in a caged enclosure at the zoo. Oct 17, 2014 | 5 minute read

    Federal and state officials request assistance in investigation of gunshot red wolf

  18. A male red wolf looks on as two pups play Oct 7, 2014 | 1 minute read

    Fish and Wildlife Service extends date to complete red wolf evaluation to November 14

  19. An adult red wolf walking stealthily in a caged enclosure at the zoo. Sep 12, 2014 | 1 minute read

    Fish and Wildlife Service extends comment period two weeks for red wolf recovery program evaluation

  20. A wolf with grey and brown fur and tan eyes in front of a rock wall. Aug 29, 2014 | 3 minute read

    Eastern North Carolina Red wolf population under review

  21. A dead red wolf shows signs of decomposition in the understory. Nov 21, 2013 | 4 minute read

    Federal officials request assistance in sixth gunshot red wolf reward up to $26,000

  22. A dead red wolf with a gun shot wound to the body in the bed of a truck. Nov 20, 2013 | 4 minute read

    Federal officials request assistance regarding latest red wolf killing

  23. A red wolf in a zoo enclosure. Nov 5, 2013 | 5 minute read

    Local and national conservation organizations increase reward to $21,000 for investigation assistance related to red wolf deaths

  24. A red wolf in a semi-forested fenced enclosure. Oct 30, 2013 | 3 minute read

    Reward offered for information regarding red wolf death

  25. Sunset over waterbody. Jun 25, 2013 | 6 minute read

    Night thrills on the refuge

  26. A tiny red wolf pup held by a biologist wearing blue gloves. Jun 12, 2013 | 4 minute read

    Fewer red wolf litters reported for 2013 whelping season

  27. A wolf with grey and brown fur and tan eyes in front of a rock wall. Jan 29, 2013 | 3 minute read

    Reward offered for investigation assistance relating to red wolf death

  28. A tiny red wolf pup held by a biologist wearing blue gloves. Nov 9, 2012 | 3 minute read

    Reward offered for investigation assistance relating to third red wolf death

  29. A red wolf in a full run on a grassy field. Oct 26, 2012 | 3 minute read

    $2,500 reward offered for information on second red wolf death

  30. An orange caution sign warns about smoke ahead. Jan 9, 2009 | 3 minute read

    2009 prescribed burning projections announced for Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

  31. An adult red wolf walking stealthily in a caged enclosure at the zoo. Oct 10, 2007 | 2 minute read

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces the availability of the red wolf five-year review

The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered wolves. Once common throughout the Eastern and South Central United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the early 20th century as a result of intensive predator control programs and the degradation and alteration of the species’ habitat. When the red wolf was designated endangered in 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to conserve and recover the species. Today, about 40 red wolves roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina as a non-essential, experimental population (NEP), and more than 200 red wolves are maintained in captive breeding facilities throughout the United States.

A light brown and grey wolf with ears perked
Captive red wolf at Species Survival Plan facility, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (Tacoma, WA). Photo by B. Bartel, USFWS

Appearance

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is a native North American canid intermediate in size between the coyote (Canis latrans) and gray wolf (Canis lupus). 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. Adult red wolves range in weight from about 45 to 80 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.

Two fluffy brown red wolf pups sleeping on one another
Red wolf pups. Photo by Ryan Nordsven, USFWS.

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 cover, 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.

Range

The historical range of the red wolf covers the southeast from Texas to New York to Florida.
Red wolf historical range with non-essential experimental population management area. Map by Jose Barrios, USFWS.

Diet

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.

Behavior

Red wolves are social animals that live in close-knit packs. Typical packs consist of 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 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. Fewer than half of wolf pups born in the wild survive to adulthood. Survival rates are affected by disease, malnutrition and predation.

Wolf packs have specific territories that they actively defend against other canids, including other wolves. Most active at dusk and dawn, red wolves are elusive and generally avoid humans and human activity.

Threats

Human-caused mortality (e.g., vehicle strikes, gunshots) can remove breeders from the wild wolf population. These threats, combined with habitat fragmentation from increasing development, allow coyotes to expand into the NEP area. Coyotes may directly compete with wolves for resources, as well as introduce diseases, and dilute wolf genetic lines through hybridization. This is particularly true when a pack has lost one of the adults from the breeding pair close to mating season.

Red wolf recovery program review

In 2013, the Service and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) entered into broad agreement acknowledging growing concerns from private landowners regarding management of the NEP population in the North Carolina Albemarle Peninsula. Both agencies recognized steps were needed to improve management of the NEP, which included the need to conduct an evaluation of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the implementation of recovery actions in the NEP’s five counties in northeastern North Carolina.

To that end, in 2014 the Service contracted with the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) to conduct an independent evaluation focused on three primary elements: supporting science, program management, and human dimensions. WMI reviewed more than 200 documents, interviewed Service and NCWRC staff at various management levels, commissioned literature reviews of red wolf genetics and ecology, held two public meetings in the red wolf restoration area, and conducted public opinion surveys.

In light of the findings from the WMI evaluation, the Service expanded the review in June 2015 to include the recovery efforts beyond the program’s non-essential, experimental population in North Carolina. The objective of expanding the scope was to identify actions necessary to guide red wolf recovery on the landscape. The review was part of the Service’s continuing commitment to ensure the science is right and foster trust with stakeholders as issues regarding the recovery of the red wolf were addressed and implemented.

The Service took steps to involve state partners and key stakeholders in the ongoing review. A multi-faceted recovery team was reconvened in October 2015 to address current and future needs to restore red wolves in the wild. The team — comprised of representatives from federal and state agencies, university scientists, species experts, representatives from non-governmental organizations, county officials, and private landowners — reviewed the implementation of recovery actions and the science of red wolf conservation related to species taxonomy and historical range, population viability, and human dimensions.

On Sept. 12, 2016, the Service announced significant changes for red wolf recovery after completing the two year, two-step review. The Service is committed to recovering the species.

One of the most surprising findings of the Service’s review was that genetic diversity of the captive population will decline. Higher success in maintaining genetic diversity is needed to ensure a secure captive population and persistence of the red wolf species. Additionally, more animals are needed in captivity to secure the species’ survival and to support any wild population, including the current NEPin North Carolina.

Visit the reading room for a list of publications and other supporting documentation used in the evaluation of the program.

In April 2018, the Service published a new Species Status Assessment of the most current scientific information, and a five-year review for the red wolf.

In the five-year review, the Service recommended no change in the endangered status of the red wolf under the Endangered Species Act, a status that has been in place since 1967.

Also in April, the Service said it is moving to begin work with an independent organization as directed by Congress to determine within one year whether the red wolf represents a taxonomically valid species designation.

Recovery timeline

1967

  • Red wolf listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation Act

1969

  • Red wolf captive breeding initiated at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington

1973

  • Endangered Species Act becomes federal law

1977

  • First litter of red wolf pups born in breeding program at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

1978

  • First successful experimental release, tracking, and recapture of red wolves on Bulls Island, South Carolina, solidifies reintroduction techniques

1980

  • Last red wolves removed from the wild; declared biologically extinct in the wild

1986

  • Publication of a final rule in the Federal Register to introduce mated pairs of red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina;
  • establishment of nonessential experimental population (NEP)

1987

  • Restoration effort begins with the experimental release of red wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

1988

  • First litter of red wolf pups born in the wild at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

1991

  • Publication of a final rule in the Federal Register to introduce mated pairs of red wolves into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1992

  • Experimental release begins at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1993

  • First red wolves born in the wild at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1995

  • Publication of an amendment to the special rule in the Federal Register addressing private landowner concerns about reintroduced red wolves

1998

  • Red wolf project ended at Great Smoky Mountains National Park due to lack of adequate food sources

2000

  • Adaptive management plan implemented to address red wolf/coyote hybridization within the NEP area

2006

  • The size of the wild population in North Carolina peaked at an estimated 120-130 wolves

2013

  • The Service recognized steps were needed to improve management of the NEP, which included the need to conduct an evaluation of the Red Wolf Recovery Program
  • Memorandum of Understanding on collaborative conservation of red wolves and other canids, including coyotes, on the North Carolina Albemarle Peninsula signed by the Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC)

2014

  • Independent evaluation of the NEP by the Wildlife Management Institute initiated; findings of the peer-reviewed evaluation released
  • NCWRC established rules to ban nighttime hunting and require permits for daytime hunting of coyotes in the five-county red wolf recovery area in eastern North Carolina

2015

  • Service expanded the evaluation to include recovery efforts beyond the Program’s NEP to identify actions necessary to guide red wolf recovery on the landscape;
  • Reintroductions of red wolf into the wild suspended while additional science and research into the feasibility of species’ recovery is gathered;
  • existing red wolves located in North Carolina are managed in accordance with the 1995 rule;
  • Recovery team reconvened to address current and future needs to restore red wolves in the wild

2016

  • The recovery team continued to meet with the intent to produce a set of recommendations for consideration by the Service
  • The Service announced recovery of the red wolf in the wild is possible with significant changes that must be implemented to secure the captive and wild populations.

2018

The historical range of the red wolf covers the southeast from Texas to New York to Florida and the non-essential experimental population management area.
Red wolf historical range and proposed non-essential experimental population. Map by Jose Barrios, USFWS.
Current 5 county non-essential experimental population management area compared to the proposal.
Red wolf current and proposed non-essential experimental population. Map by Jose Barrios, USFWS.

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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