Red Wolves

First, let’s watch some red wolf pups playing. Then we will get to some red wolf facts.

Have you ever heard of our American red wolf? Or seen pups playing? Prepare to fall in love!

Check out the video and then let’s talk about why wolves are the most misunderstood animal on the planet.





red wolf facts

Red wolves mate for life and have pups once a year. Photo: Tish Gailmard/Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center

Red Wolf Facts

First, most folks (like us) grew up listening to fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood. Who wouldn’t be afraid of wolves!

But red wolves do not eat people, not your children or your grandmother. Nor do they attack people. There is not one documented case of a red wolf attacking a person, ever.

But will they eat my dog? No, they mostly eat small deer, rabbits, mice and raccoons along with berries. Plus they eat nutria, a highly invasive non-native rodent that is currently decimating flora in the wetlands of many states.


Red Wolves Mate For Life

Red wolves are great parents and will even care for another wolf’s babies, given the chance. They mate for life and have one litter of pups a year. Often one litter will help their parents care for the next, younger group of pups.

Also, they are very shy and don’t want to be around you or your house. It is very rare you will ever encounter one.

red wolf facts

Red wolves playing at Wolf Conservation Center. Photo: Rebecca Bose

Critically Endangered

red wolf facts

There are only 7 known colored red wolves left in the wild. Photo: USFWS/Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Ok, but where do they live? Right here in our home state of North Carolina on the East coast in a place called the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.

And yes, they do live in other states but only under human care. Hmm, what is meant by the term human care?

In addition to the wild population, there are around 250 red wolves living at 43 red wolf conservation organizations being cared for and bred by humans. It is hoped these wolves and their offspring will help repopulate the wild.


And how many are in the wild? This is the bad news (but there is hope which we will get to in a minute). Right now it is estimated there are between 10 to 20 red wolves left in the wild with only 7 known collared wolves, making them the most critically endangered canid in the world.

Why Are There So Few Left?

But why are there so few left in the wild? Well, it is a really long story but here is a quick summary.

Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in 1980 when the last 17 purebred wolves were captured and brought into captivity by the US Fish & Wildlife Services (FWS). Fourteen were used to help reestablish the species as part of a national breeding program. In 1987, the red wolf was reintroduced back into the wild in Eastern North Carolina.

At first, the program appeared successful. The wolf populations climbed to about 130 but then the program was halted by FWS for a number of (again it is complicated) reasons.

In the meantime, the existing wild red wolves were/are being killed by gunshot, car collisions, loss of habitat, or interbreeding with coyotes. Since red wolves only mate once a year, there just haven’t been enough new pups to keep the population from plummeting.

But now the hope! In 2019/2020 several red wolves were released into the wild by FWS for the first time in a number of years. If these wolves can breed and have pups…the population could recover and someday flourish again.

And just watch these red wolf pups howl!

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, you can’t bring them back.

Red wolves help keep everything in our ecosystem in balance. There are a lot of fancy terms for them: apex predators, a keystone species, an umbrella species. Bottom line, they help keep nature the way she intended. And remember, coyotes will steer clear of an area where red wolves live.

red wolf facts

A wild red wolf at Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Robert Orndrish/USFWS

What Can We Do?

To learn more red wolf facts, visit red wolves on exhibit at the NC Zoo, the WNC Nature Center or one of the 40 other breeding facilities found throughout the US. Here’s a list of the captive facilities to see if one is near you

Also, you can read a great article by Christian Hunt, Defenders of Wildlife, “The Red Wolf of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow-Wild…”. It is an in-depth synopsis of what is happening to the red wolf in the wild.

wolf facts

A curious red wolf pup. Photo: Rebecca Bose/Wolf Conservation Center

One of the best actions you can take is telling everyone you know about the plight of this wonderful animal. Most folks seem surprised to learn there are red wolves in the wild, and in North Carolina no less.

Post about red wolves on social media. Follow sites that highlight red wolves such as Red Wolves-Defenders of Wildlife or the Red Wolf Coalition.

Make a donation to the following organizations and designate your money for red wolf conservation or symbolically adopt a wolf:

Using Art To bring Awareness

In addition to speaking up for these magnificent creatures that truly are an American treasure, what else are we doing? Well, creating art, of course!

Dale finished a red wolf stone sculpture, “Just Settling In”, to increase awareness of this reclusive, majestic animal. The original sculpture is on loan to The Bradbury art Museum at Arkansas State University.

In addition,  we are donating a limited edition casting of the sculpture to red wolf conservation centers around the country. To date, we have donated over 20 castings with a third and final casting planned for the end of 2020. Read more about where the castings have been donated in  “Our Growing “Red Wolf Pack” and stay tuned for more info.  

red wolf sculpture

“Just Settling In” by Dale Weiler carved from Alabaster


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