RED WOLVES

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Top facts

  • A smaller relative of the grey wolf, the red wolf is one of the rarest canids in the world.
  • The red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but fortunately a captive breeding program enabled the species to be reintroduced.
  • As of 2010, the reintroduced population of red wolves was thought to total around 130 individuals.
  • Breeding pairs of red wolves mate for life, and typically live in small packs with their offspring.

Red wolf biology

The red wolf is generally a crepuscular species, most active at dawn and dusk. It lives in discrete packs, which have an exclusive territory within their home range. A pack typically contains a breeding pair (who mate for life) and their offspring, although larger packs have been recorded. The breeding season occurs between January and March, and dens are located among dense vegetation, in deep burrows between fields or in canal banks, or in the hollows of large trees. Litters contain an average of three to six pups, but may range up to eight pups. The breeding pair both rear the young with help from the other young members of the pack. Offspring typically disperse from their natal pack between 15 to 20 months old.

This wolf preys on mammals such as swamp rabbits, coypu, deer and raccoon, and is also reported to feed on carrion.

Red wolf range

Red wolves formerly ranged throughout the southeastern USA, from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, north to the Ohio River Valley and central Pennsylvania, and west to central Texas and southeastern Missouri. Zoologist Ronald Nowak believes red wolves historically occurred as far north as Maine in the northeastern USA . Following a massive decline during the 20th Century, the species was declared extinct in the wild in 1980 after the last 17 wild red wolves were taken into captivity to begin a captive breeding program. A highly successful recovery program has since reintroduced the red wolf to a remote, five-county area of northeastern North Carolina, in and around the Alligator River, Musketeer, and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges. As of 2003, the free-ranging red wolf population numbered around 100 individuals in 20 family groups.

Red wolf habitat

The red wolf inhabits swamps, forests, wetlands and bush-lands.

Red wolf status

The red wolf is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List.

Red wolf threats

The population of red wolves suffered as a result of persecution and habitat loss as mature woodlands were cleared to make way for agriculture. Red wolves were extensively trapped and shot, as they were believed to pose a direct threat to livestock and game. Hybridization posed a further threat to the survival of the species, as the population became increasingly fragmented; isolated individuals would crossbreed with the closely related coyote (Canis latrans). The taxonomic status of the red wolf has been widely debated. Recent genetic and morphological research suggests that the red wolf is a unique species, rather than the hybrid offspring from gray wolf (Canis lupus) and coyote (Canis latrans) interbreeding.