Background Information


Today, red wolves (Canis rufus) number around 50 individuals, with a tenuous presence in Eastern North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike their close relative, the gray wolf, red wolves are smaller in stature and have a characteristic reddish coat. Their behavior, however, is similar to that of other candis, with a complex social structure and carnivorous diet. Historically, their range has been limited to the Eastern United States, with fossil records confirming their regional presence for over 10,000 years.


Unfortunately, red wolves have been subject to mass predator control efforts, rendering the wolves extinct in the wild in 1980, as determined by the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). Extinction, however, was intentionally expedited, but in an effort to preserve the wolves’ genetic identity. Seven years prior to 1980, scientists captured approximately 400 of the canids and culled genetically or morphologically impure wolves. Out of the 400 captured, only 14 individuals met the respective standards, a population which served as the foundation for current and future reintroduction efforts.


Historical threats of hybridization, predator control and land constraints are ongoing, despite the wolves’ protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. With a declining population and moribund trajectory, the red wolf population is in trouble of regaining its former “extinct in the wild” status. This has prompted the USFWS’ decision to provisionally terminate the Red Wolf Recovery Program of 1987 and reevaluate its feasibility, a decision made on June 30, 2015. Currently, the USFWS’ verdict is pending, a decision they expect to finalize by the summer of 2016.

In this website, we will contextualize the unique case of the red wolf, considering its significance as a renewable natural resource and the necessity for its ongoing protection and recovery. We will examine both the wolves’ ecological and anthropocentric value, similar case studies, current threats, policies and relevant stakeholders. Lastly, we will conclude with policy recommendations, which will prioritize community engagement as a way to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of future recovery efforts.