World’s Only Wild Red Wolves in Jeopardy

America’s rarest wolf, the red wolf is a smaller and a more slender cousin of the gray wolf. The color for which it is named can be seen in the reddish cast to its fur.


Photo © USFWS

Shy and secretive, red wolves tend to form pair-bonds for life and have an average litter size of two to six pups.


Photo © USFWS

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Conservation Groups Take U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to Court for Failures to Protect the World's Only Wild Red Wolves More »

Survival of America’s Rarest Wolf at Stake

Only about 50-75 wild red wolves (Canis rufus)—the world’s only wild population of red wolves—live a five county area on the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina. According to population estimates by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wild population of red wolves has declined by as much as half of what it was a year ago when an estimated 100 red wolves lived within the same area.

The survival of these wild red wolves is in jeopardy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in June 2015 that it authorized the killing of a breeding female wolf exhibiting denning behavior and suspended red wolf reintroductions into the wild. The agency’s failure to investigate the recent decline of the wild wolves population, its actions and management that harm the survival of red wolves, and its failure to investigate how best to recover wild red wolves as required by law led to court action by conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The Return of Red Wolves

North Carolina is home to the only wild population of red wolves in the world.  Red wolves bred in captivity were successfully reintroduced on a North Carolina peninsula within their native range in the late 1980’s after red wolves were declared extinct in the wild. Once common throughout the American Southeast, intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat decimated wild red wolf populations.

Listen to the red wolf chorus

Previous Court Action
As of July 26, 2013, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission authorized coyote hunting both during the day and at night with artificial spotlights within the area designated for red wolf recovery.

The law center notified the NCWRC that it was in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing hunting of coyotes within the Red Wolf Recovery Area and the groups would file a federal enforcement action unless the commission took steps to protect the wolves. Subsequently, the parties agreed to a settlement to address shootings of wild red wolves, including banning coyote hunting by spotlight at night within the Red Wolf Recovery Area and requiring for the first time permitting and reporting for coyote hunting during the day within the five-county area. Since the settlement, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission passed a resolution calling for red wolves to be declared extinct in the wild.

Coyote Control
To prevent wild red wolves interbreeding with coyotes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sterilizes coyotes that hold territories within and near red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes undoes effective coyote population control efforts and further jeopardizes the native wild red wolf population.