SAVING THE RED WOLF
Red wolves are among the most endangered carnivores in the world. Once spread across the U.S. Southeast, these clever and highly adaptive predators suffered a similar fate to that of their gray wolf cousins. People relentlessly persecuted them, to the extent that in 1980 — after the capture of the last remaining red wolves for a captive-breeding program — the species was declared extinct in the wild.
In 1987 four pairs of red wolves were released in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare County, North Carolina. Red wolves’ reintroduction program was considered one of the world’s most innovative and successful efforts to restore a critically endangered carnivore, and by 2006, the wolves’ population had reached 130.
Unfortunately since then their population has declined — drastically. Red wolves are classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The species has been reduced to a single wild population of fewer than 20 known individuals in eastern North Carolina.
Mismanagement, illegal killing, and hybridization with coyotes threaten red wolves with extinction. These wolves used to outcompete coyotes, but when they were pushed out of the wild, the coyotes moved in on their former territory. Not only are red wolves now mating with coyotes — they’re often mistaken for coyotes and shot. Their persecution by private landowners and livestock operators continues too.
Instead of strengthening protections for these unique, critically endangered wolves, in 2018 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was halting its effort to help them recover in the wild. The agency stopped releasing red wolves from captivity into their recovery area, stopped investigating red wolf deaths, and even ended a highly successful red wolf education program. With so few red wolves left in the world, the Center released a comprehensive 2019 report outlining everything needed to reverse this clear trend to extinction. We also filed a lawsuit challenging the Service’s failure to revise its outdated recovery plan from 1990.
Following that suit and other advocacy, in 2022 the Service announced that it is redoubling its efforts to ensure that the red wolf not only survives in the wild but makes a full recovery.