Southeast Wolves

Southeast Wolves

Defenders has been working on red wolf recovery since the mid-1980s through a combination of advocacy and public education. The species, once considered extinct in the wild, now numbers more than 100 in northeastern North Carolina.

Read Background and Recovery

No Airstrip in Red Wolf Territory

In early 2008, the Navy abandoned building an airstrip near Pocosin Lakes in North Carolina — home to the world’s only wild population of endangered red wolves.

Read more about this important success story.

In the Field

Building public acceptance of endangered species is key to the success of a recovery program. Defenders’ activities to promote the benefits of red wolf recovery include investigating the potential economic benefits of red wolf-based ecotourism in rural northeastern North Carolina and implementing various educational campaigns.Read More

Management and Policy

Biologically, the red wolf reintroduction program has been a success; however, the red wolf is not out of danger. Several factors continue to threaten its long-term recovery. To ensure the future of this species, Defenders works with federal agencies and local organizations to address the current and future threats impacting the survival of red wolves.

Read More

Red Wolf Headshot

Red Wolf Recovery Project

Click Here to read the 5-Year Review

Red Wolf, Canis rufus

The red wolf is one of two species of wolves in North America, the other being the gray wolf, Canis lupus. As their name suggests, red wolves are known for the characteristic reddish color of their fur most apparent behind the ears and along the neck and legs, but are mostly brown and buff colored with some black along their backs. Intermediate in size to gray wolves and coyotes, the average adult red wolf weighs 45-80 pounds, stands about 26 inches at the shoulder and is about 4 feet long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.

Red wolves are social animals that live in packs consisting of a breeding adult pair and their offspring of different years, typically five to eight animals. Red wolves prey on a variety of wild mammals such as raccoon, rabbit, white-tailed deer, nutria, and other rodents. Most active at dusk and dawn, red wolves are elusive and generally avoid humans and human activity.

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.

Over 100 red wolves roam their native habitats in five northeastern North Carolina counties and approximately 200 comprise the 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.

Current red wolf facts:

  • There are two species of wolves in North America: gray wolf and red wolf.
  • Historically the red wolf roamed as a top predator throughout the southeastern United States.
  • Aggressive predator control programs and clearing of forested habitat reduced the red wolf population to 17 wolves by 1980.
  • In compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the first red wolf recovery plan was completed in 1973; implementation begins.
  • Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild between 1980-87.
  • Restoration began with 4 pairs of red wolves released into the ARNWR in 1987.
  • Today 100-120 red wolves call northeastern North Carolina home. This is the world’s only wild population of red wolves.
  • There are over 40 Species Survival Plan captive facilities in the United States. Many have viewing opportunities visit:
  • Restoration area consists of 1.7 million public and private acres in Dare, Tyrrell, Hyde, Beaufort and Washington Counties.
  • Approximately 20 packs live in the wild in northeastern North Carolina. A pack consists of an adult pair and often pups.
  • Pups born annually in April and May. In 2009, there were 41 pups born among 11 litters in the wild population – PLUS 4 fostered pups. In the captive population, there were 12 pups born among 3 litters.
  • Life span in the wild: 7-8 years / in captivity: up to 15 years.
  • Red wolves are wary animals and rarely seen in the wild.
  • Red Wolf Recovery Program is located in Manteo, NC, at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) office.

Program Reports