Facts & Stats
Learn more: read the Red Wolf Q&A
Are red wolves really red?
Despite the disclaimers in the technical literature, the wolves are red, some more than others, laced through the back of the ears and neck and splashed through their shoulders and haunches and legs. Not blood red, but the brown-red color of certain animals like the copperhead and the grouse, a forest red that easily darkens to brown or black in a wolf’s shoulders and across its back and flanks, or bleeds into the ruddy yellow that fades to the pale fur of its underbelly. Red in the signature way that a red-tailed hawk is red. Red As a point of departure. A red quickly hidden in the flowing motion of a running wolf when the animal turns darker, almost black, not red at all. [Christopher Camuto, in Another Country: Journeying Toward the Cherokee Mountains.]
By 1980, the red wolf was functionally extinct in the wild because of habitat destruction and government-sponsored extermination programs. Fortunately, starting in the late 1960s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began capturing the last red wolves in a remnant population along the Gulf Coast of eastern Texas and western Louisiana. The Red Wolf Species Survival Captive Breeding Program (SSP) was successful in its efforts to build a captive breeding population, and in 1987, a reintroduction program began in northeastern North Carolina. By 2010, approximately 130 wild red wolves roamed 1.7 million acres of public and private land in northeastern North Carolina. Then in 2011 and 2012, illegal gunshot mortality caused the population to plummet. As of April 2017, fewer than 45 wild red wolves remain, all of them on northeastern North Carolina's Albemarle Peninsula. Forty-two captive breeding facilities across the United States house approximately 200 red wolves. At these approved zoos and nature centers, red wolves live in natural habitats. Pups born in captivity are raised by their parents and are not socialized to people. [See the International Wolf Center's special publication The Red Wolf for a detailed timeline.]
Red wolves live in a variety of habitats and ecosystems in northeastern North Carolina. They roam wild in wetlands, mixed forests and on agricultural lands. Wolves will live just about anywhere humans will tolerate their presence. They are opportunistic hunters, and they will prey on domestic livestock, even when wild prey is available. While the losses in terms of the overall number of cattle, sheep and so on may be small, ranchers and farmers suffer economically when wolves kill domestic animals. Red wolves have a good track record, partly because they live in a region where agriculture is based on crops such as soybeans and cotton. However, all human delvelopment—farming, housing subdivisions, road construction—affects wildlife. This is one reason we must emphasize the value of public lands, such as the national wildlife refuges of northeastern North Carolina. We must also encourage landowners to establish habitat for wildlife on private property. Saving wildlife without saving habitat is useless. Wildlife and wild lands go together.
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.
Endangered-Experimental/Non-essential in the five-county recovery region in northeastern North Carolina. Endangered elsewhere if found. Captive population is listed as endangered.
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 threat is 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.
See Red Wolf Biology and Status to learn more about the species and the efforts to restore it.