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

Latest News

Clock is ticking to save wild red wolves as species’ status confirmed More »

Survival of America’s Rarest Wolf at Stake

As few as 28 wild red wolves (Canis rufus)—the world’s only wild population of red wolves—live in 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 about half of what it was three years 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.

On September 29, 2016, the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the conservation groups secured a preliminary injunction that will protect the remaining wolves from recent, significant changes in USFWS policy that allowed red wolves to be captured and killed even when they posed no risk to human, pet, or livestock safety.  Recognizing that SELC and its clients are likely to prevail on our claims that USFWS is violating federal law, the judge banned the agency from capturing or killing---or authorizing private landowners to capture or kill---any wild red wolves unless they threaten public safety, livestock, or pets.

Just weeks before the injunction, the agency had proposed placing all wolves in captivity except for those occupying a netional wildlife refuge and a U. S. Navy bombing range in eastern North Carolina.  The scientists who conducted the research on which the agency relied subsequently sent a letter to the UFWS flagging that the justification for its new plan was full of "alarming misinterpretations."

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
In July 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 and demanding USFWS to remove red wolves from the wild.

Coyote Control
To prevent wild red wolves interbreeding with coyotes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in the past sterilized coyotes that held 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.