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Red Wolves in North Carolina (Last in the Wild)

Did you know that there are only about 20 red wolves left in the wild? Red wolves once roamed a large portion of the United States, but due to human interference and destruction of habitat, the species was nearly wiped out.

In this article, we’ll learn where the current population of red wolves lives, discuss the history of the species, and talk about how conservation efforts are working to save red wolves.

Are There Red Wolves in North Carolina?

Red wolf staring
Red wolf staring | image by Jean via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

The only wild population of red wolves is trying to survive in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The current population is estimated to be between 19-21 red wolves, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports. However, only 10 wolves are collared and tracked.

Where Do Red Wolves Live in North Carolina?

The Albemarle Peninsula is currently home to the wild population of red wolves, composed of Hyde, Tyrell, Washington, Beaufort, and mainland Dare Counties. This region harbors the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Unsurprisingly, the wild red wolf population has been spotted outside of their primary range but only in the coastal plains area. Enjoying their solitude, red wolves are typically found alone or in small packs and thrive with the right combination of swamps, forested areas, meadows, and marshlands.

Are Red Wolves Native to North Carolina?

Originally, the red wolf was endemic throughout much of the southeastern United States, including North Carolina. However, they had been declared extinct in the wild by 1980. Although some individuals survived in captivity, these animals had suffered so much genetic erosion that they were no longer considered viable to be released back into the wild.

What is the Red Wolf Recovery Program?

Northeastern North Carolina red wolf recovery area management zone boundaries
Northeastern North Carolina red wolf recovery area management zone boundaries | image by Joseph W. Hinton via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

The Red Wolf Recovery Program was established in 1987 to protect one of the rarest mammals in North America – the red wolf. The species had been eliminated from its native range in the southeastern United States due to habitat loss, overhunting, and interbreeding with coyotes.

To save the species from extinction, a captive breeding program was initiated at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina in 1987 with 14 individuals from four surviving red wolf populations( from Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) with the goal of restoring a self-sustaining pure red wolf population to the wild.

Can You Hunt Red Wolves in North Carolina?

No way, it is illegal to hunt red wolves in North Carolina. In 1982 the red wolf was declared an endangered species and the US Fish & Wildlife Service developed a recovery plan for the species that ultimately led to its reintroduction into northeastern North Carolina.

To protect the species, hunting of red wolves is prohibited by state and federal law and enforced by both the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Penalties for hunting red wolves include fines, jail time, and revocation of hunting privileges. The conservation status of red wolves is still precarious.

What Makes Red Wolves in North Carolina Unique?

Red wolf at the zoo
Red wolf at the zoo | image by Brandon Trentler via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Red wolves in North Carolina are remarkable as they were the first species to be reintroduced from extinction – an incredible feat that hasn’t been replicated. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began the Red Wolf Recovery Program to capture any remaining wild red wolves for captive breeding in order to reintroduce them back into the wild. This reintroduction program was incredibly successful, with the FWS declaring the species “recovered” in 2015.

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Are There Red Wolves in The North Carolina Mountains?

Historically, red wolves could be found all over the state of North Carolina, from the sea to the mountains. Presently, you cannot find red wolves in the mountains as the reintroduced wild population lives in the coastal region of the state.

Why Are Red Wolves Important?

Not only do red wolves limit deer populations and provide sustenance for larger predators like cougars, but they also bring genetic diversity to their ecosystems. This helps preserve the natural equilibrium of predator-prey dynamics, as well as prevent the overgrazing of vegetation by controlling herbivore numbers.

The importance of red wolves in our environment is indisputable – they not only guard the water quality of wetlands but also serve as an indicator species that can alert us when local ecosystems are out of balance. Red wolves provide invaluable ecological benefits which make them a necessary keystone species for long-term environmental sustainability.

Are There Captive Red Wolves in NC?

Red wolf pups captive breeding
Red wolf pups captive breeding | image by George Gentry via Wikimedia Commons

7 captive breeding facilities in North Carolina are currently home to red wolf populations that help contribute to the effort to restore the species to the wild. These breeding facilities are 7 out of the 44 captive breeding facilities across the United States that house red wolves descended from the original 14 red wolves that were rescued in 1987.

Is The Red Wolf a Distinct Species?

A common misconception about red wolves is that they aren’t their own species or that they are actually coyote-wolf hybrids. Research tells us that red wolves are their own taxonomically distinct species, albeit closely related to gray wolves and coyotes.

Can Red Wolves Breed with Coyotes?

Coywolves occur when coyotes breed with wolves. These hybrids normally thrive in any environment, making them a nuisance to human beings because of how adaptable they are. Additionally, coywolves can breed with related species- other coywolves or wolves, for example.

The caveat with red wolves is that there are presently no known red coywolves in the wild. Fascinatingly, some coyotes have been found to contain the genetic markers of red wolves in their DNA. This implies that prior to the extinction of red wolves, hybrid “red coywolves” did indeed exist.

It is also known that one of the original reasons that drove the extinction of the red wolf was interbreeding with coyotes, leading to hybrid coywolves in place of the pure red wolf.

Are Red Wolves Aggressive?

Male red wolf staring
Male red wolf staring | image by Red Wolf via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Red wolves may seem docile and unassuming, but don’t be fooled – they will fiercely defend themselves if their safety feels jeopardized. These animals tend to steer clear of conflict with humans or other species, yet when the need arises they are quick to take action. Ultimately, protecting their territory is paramount in a red wolf’s hierarchy of needs, which can cause them to become more defensive if someone encroaches upon their territory.

To keep yourself safe from a red wolf, it’s essential to give the animal plenty of room and respect its space. If you spot one in nature, observe it cautiously from afar as getting too close could put both parties at risk. Refrain from interacting with or feeding the creature- approaching them can lead to defensive behavior that can be hazardous for both of you.

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A Future For Red Wolves

Native to North Carolina, wild red wolves are critically endangered and inhabit the coastal plain region. However, due to habitat loss and other threats, they still remain vulnerable.

To safeguard their future, conservation efforts must continue in order for these unique animals to be given a chance at thriving in their natural environment. With adequate protection and support, it is possible that one day the population of red wolves will not only survive but thrive.