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.
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 April 2021 there are thought to be 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.
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.
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. 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?
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.
What can we do?
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.
Make a donation to the following organizations and designate your money for red wolf conservation or symbolically adopt a wolf:
- Defenders of Wildlife
- NC Zoo Save a species program
- Endangered Wolf Center, Adopt a wolf
- Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center
- Zoo Knoxville
- Wolf Conservation Center
- Western North Carolina Nature Center Adopt a red wolf
- Red Wolf Coalition
What are we doing? Using art, of course, to bring awareness
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.