(Courtesy of Red Wolf Coalition)
By 1980, the red wolf was functionally extinct in the wild because of habitat destruction and systematic extermination. Enough red wolves were rounded up from a remnant population along the Gulf Coast of eastern Texas and western Louisiana to begin a captive breeding program. In 1987, a reintroduction program began in northeastern North Carolina. As of 2014, it is estimated that just under 100 wild red wolves roam 1.7 million acres of public and private land in northeastern North Carolina. Forty-four captive breeding facilities house approximately 200 red wolves.
Adults weigh 50 – 80 pounds and measure 4 to 5 feet from the base of the tail to the tip of the nose. Long legs, with height at shoulder about 26 inches. Color varies from dark gray to gray mixed with cinnamon, buff, tan and black. Often have reddish tinge on their long ears and on backs of legs.
Rarely longer than 6 or 7 years in the wild, up to 15 years in captivity.
Original habitat included forests, wetlands, mountains and coastal prairies.
Once the Southeast’s top predator, the red wolf was found from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts north to the Ohio River Vally, through central Pennsylvania, New England and possibly southern Ontario, and west to southern Missouri and central Texas.
Presently lives in the wild on the national wildlife refuges and adjacent private property in the 1.7-million acre restoration area in northeastern North Carolina.
Primarily white-tailed deer, nutria, marsh rabbits, raccoons and small rodents. Red wolves consume 2-5 pounds of food a day if prey is plentiful. Red wolves may travel up to 20 miles a day in search of food.
Red wolves live in family groups or pairs (packs). A pack consists of a breeding pair and offspring. Size of pack varies with prey availability. Often hunt alone or in pairs. Average litter is 3-5 born each year in spring. Red wolves communicate through vocalizations (including howling), body posture, facial expressions and scent marking.
Gunshot, vehicle injury and death, and habitat loss due to human development. The primary threats are illegal gunshot and hybridization with coyotes. Sea level rise associated with climate change also poses a threat to red wolves living in the coastal region of northeastern North Carolina.
Value of the Red Wolf
In an article in the Fall 2009 issue of International Wolf magazine, Red Wolf Recovery Program Coordinator David Rabon wrote about the value of restoring red wolves to the wild:
Every species has intrinsic worth. In addition to the obvious aesthetic value, the red wolf plays a practical and positive role in maintaining healthy and balanced ecosystems. Restoring red wolves also enhances the Earth’s biodiversity. There are cultural and economic implications in restoring red wolves, as well, whether it is revering the wolf for its skills or what it represents in nature to the economic benefits of ecotourism or reducing crop damage caused by prey species. At the very least, there may be an ethical obligation to right past wrongs and learn from past mistakes that can only be realized or actualized with the restoration of red wolves and other predators.
For more information on red wolves visit the Red Wolf Coalition at www.redwolves.com
All photographs courtesy of the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program.