Red Wolves

Have you ever heard of our American red wolf? Do you know any red wolf facts? Or seen pups playing? Prepare to fall in love!
First, I can’t watch this video of pups playing enough. It brings a smile to my face every time I see it.
Check out the video and then let’s talk about why wolves are one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet. Plus we will learn some cool red wolf facts.





red wolf facts

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

The myths surrounding red wolves

Ever heard of Little Red Riding Hood. Who hasn’t?  Most folks (like us) grew up listening to fairy tales including The Three Little Pigs where the bad wolf is going to blow their house down. Or Little Red Riding Hood where the even badder wolf eats Grandma. 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. And if you want to learn more about what they eat, including blueberries, read our blog What Do Wolves Eat? Blueberries?

Plus they eat nutria. Hmm, what is a nutria? They are highly invasive non-native rodents currently decimating plants in the wetlands of many states.


Cool red wolf facts

  • They are the most endangered wolf in the world. As of December 2021, there are less than 20 left in the wild.
  • 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.
  • Red wolves are great parents and will even care for another wolf’s babies, given the chance.
  • 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 wolves weigh between 45 and 80 pounds. They are smaller than a gray wolf but larger than a coyote.
  • All wolves, including red wolves, help keep coyotes out of the area where they live. They are the apex predator and will run out or kill coyotes entering their territories.
red wolf facts

The love between a red wolf mom and her pup. Photo: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

Critically endangered

red wolf facts

There are only 10 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 10 known collared wolves, making them the most critically endangered canid in the world.
Wait, what is a collared wolf? US Fish & Wildlife puts radio tracking collars on all newly released wolves and any they catch without a collar. They now use bright orange collars to help distinguish them from coyotes and to track their movements.

Why are there so few left?

what are red wolves endangered

The only wild red wolves live in our home state of North carolina. Photo: Museum Life + Science

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. 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.

For a more detailed history, 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.


But there is hope…

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 just 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,  keystone species, umbrella species.

The bottom line, they help keep nature the way she intended. They keep small mammal populations in check, eat the dreaded nutria and leave some leftover carcasses for birds and other critters to eat.

And remember, coyotes will steer clear of an area where red wolves live.

Plus they are our only native large carnivore. An iconic, American species of which we should be proud. In addition, they can improve ecotourism in an area by attracting folks to visit.

red wolf facts

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

What can we do?

red wolf facts

An American red wolf pup, the largest carnivore exclusively native to the United States. Photo: Rebecca Bose/Wolf Conservation Center

To see a red wolf and learn more red wolf facts, visit them 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 conservation centers with red wolves to see if one is near you.

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:


What are we doing? Using art, of course, 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 30 castings with a third and final casting planned for the end of 2021. 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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