What is Your Favorite Animal?

Red Wold Facts

Red Wolves

Red Wolf Facts:

What mammal living solely in the US has been extinct in the wild once, and maybe soon twice? We were stunned to learn it is the shy red wolf. What is more surprising?  In the entire world, they only live in our home state of North Carolina.  Admittedly, we didn’t know many red wolf facts until meeting some very cool wolves at the NC Zoo.

Red Wolf Facts

A shy red wolf at the NC Zoo

The red wolf is one of the most endangered animals in the world with only 45-60 left in the wild and 200 in captivity. With 19 red wolves at the NC Zoo, including 3 newborn pups, we fell in love at first sight (much like the hellbender, but we digress). Red wolves are shy, mate for life and form small family packs around a breeding pair.

And red wolves get a bad rap just being a wolf. We think of the “big bad wolf” of fairy tales, but there has never been a documented case of a red wolf attacking a person. They mostly eat small deer and other smaller mammals including rabbits and raccoons.

Extinct Once and Maybe, Once Again:

Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980 when the last 14 purebred wolves were captured and brought into captivity by the US Fish & Wildlife Services (FWS). These 14 were used to help reestablish the species as part of a national breeding program with over 40 zoos and wildlife centers cooperating in their restoration.

In 1987, the red wolf was reintroduced back into the wild in Eastern North Carolina. While the program appeared very successful with the wolf populations climbing to about one hundred, the program was recently halted by FWS and is being reevaluated. Encroachment of private lands and failure of the program to meet projected goals were 2 of the reasons mentioned to halt the program. In the meantime, the existing wild red wolves are in danger of being killed by gunshot, car collisions, loss of habitat, or interbreeding with coyotes. At this point, it looks like nobody is really watching out for the wolves. But how can you not love these guys?

Red Wolf Facts

A Red Wolf Pair. Photo credit: Ashley Brown


The end result may well be the red wolf becomes extinct in the wild for the second time. Only time will tell whether this iconic American animal will no longer exist in the wild as one of the few animals endemic to our country. We hope not, but the fate of the red wolf lies in the hands of FWS. At least there is a robust captive breeding program keeping the species alive until…..

Why are Red Wolves Important?

Of course, one of the obvious reasons wolves are important is once they are lost, they are lost forever (short of cloning and other weird, unnatural ways of preserving a species). Red wolves, as predators, also preserve the environment in which they live by maintaining the health of the ecosystem. Predators keep unhealthy animals in check and help prevent overpopulations of smaller animals. Plus, they are just so darn cute.

What Can We Do?

To learn more red wolf facts, visit red wolves on exhibit at the NC Zoo, visit the WNC Nature Center or one of the 40 other breeding facilities found throughout the US. Also, you can read more about them at Defenders of Wildlife or numerous other conservation organizations. While the deadline for comments to FWS on the red wolf program ended 7-24-17, it is never too late to make your voice heard. Speak up for these lovely creatures that truly are an American treasure.

Red Wold Facts

Red Wolf Pups. Photo credit: Greg Koch.