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.
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.