“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologised epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself”
After being virtually wiped out at the arrival of the 1960s, following man’s unyielding and misguided purge against them (or intensive predator control programs as they preferred to call them), the red wolf was finally declared endangered in 1967. In 1980, it was declared extinct in the wild. At the time of the latter declaration, only seventeen pure red wolves survived, all of which had been captured and taken into captivity. They subsequently became part of the red wolf recovery program. Fourteen of these wolves were to become the founders of today’s population.
In 1987 the species was reintroduced into the wilds of North Carolina by the USFWS. The red wolf is now firmly re-established there, the only place it can be found, and is making a slow, but steady comeback. But, the species still remains critically endangered; with less than one hundred surviving in the wild and some two hundred still in kept captivity, as part of the survival plan.
The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of only two species of wolf in North America, and the first wolf species to be reintroduced in the United States. The other species is the grey wolf (Canis lupus). The red wolf is not a subspecies of the grey wolf, as is often thought.
Red wolves are larger than coyotes , but smaller than grey wolves. They have noticeably long legs, large feet and fairly substantial ears. Their coats are brown to grey with black along the back and reddish tinges behind the ears, neck and legs. They moult annually.
The weigh in at between fifty to eighty pounds, can attain a length of up to five and a half feet, and reach over two and a half feet at the shoulder. Males tend to be larger than females. They may live up to the age of eight years in the wild, but tend to survive much longer in captivity, sometimes up to as much as fifteen years.
Red wolves live in family groups (packs) which consist of a breeding adult pair (the alpha male and female) and their various offspring. There are typically five to eight animals in a pack. They hunt alone, or in small packs, and are primarily nocturnal. Communication is by scent marking, howling and body gestures.
Red wolves are monogamous. The breeding season takes place between January and March. There follows a gestation period of sixty-three days, after which the female will give birth to an average of three to six pups (this figure may be much low as one or as high as twelve). Pups are born blind and will open their eyes after ten days. The mother will keep the newborns in the birth den for the first couple of weeks before moving them to a succession of other dens, and later presenting them to the rest of the pack. Fathers and other female members of the pack all help with the care of the pups.
Mixed forests, wetlands and agricultural lands.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the north-eastern coast of North Carolina.
What they eat
Raccoon, rabbit, various rodents, nutria, insects and white-tailed deer.
Habitat loss, road accidents, disease, human conflict, , illegal slaughter and interbreeding with coyotes. An additional threat looming on the horizon is that of climate change. The red wolf’s low-lying coastal habitat is slowly sinking, at the same time sea level is rising. It is predicted, within the next one hundred years up to one-third of the red wolf’s current habitat could be submerged.
Status: Critically Endangered
The red wolf (Canis rufus) once ranged throughout eastern North America, but is now listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1. It is thought only one hundred to one hundred and twenty individuals exist in the wild (eight fatalities were recorded in 2013), with a further two hundred in the Species Survival Plan, a captive breeding program in place in various locations across the United States. All extant red wolves are descended from just fourteen founders. Without the captive breeding programmes in place, the red wolf would not have survived as a species.