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Red Wolf Recovery Milestone

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The red wolf (Canis rufus) is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids. Once common throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the 1960s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat.

In 1980, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared red wolves extinct in the wild. A few survived only in captivity, their wildness caged.

Thirty years ago in September of 1987, USFWS took a giant leap forward in endangered species conservation by releasing red wolves in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as part of a federal reintroduction program under the Endangered Species Act.

Over the last three decades, efforts continued to restore these keystone predators to their rightful places in our landscapes, in our hearts, and in our culture.

As a participant in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, the Wolf Conservation Center has been a part of this effort for the past 12 years in giving the rare species a second chance by preventing extinction through captive breeding and supporting the reintroduction project by caring for the wolves for reintroduction.

The red wolf reintroduction was among the first instances of a species, considered extinct in the wild, being re-established from a captive population. In many ways, the red wolf program was the pilot program, serving as a model for subsequent canid reintroductions, particularly those of the gray wolf to the American Southwest and to the Yellowstone region.

The red wolf’s “homecoming” remains a significant milestone not only for the rare species, but for endangered wildlife conservation.

Despite the recovery program’s progress and support, in September of last year, USFWS proposed giving up on 30 years of conservation success removing almost all of the last remaining red wolves from the wild and confining them in captivity.
Current estimates put the wild population at fewer than 30.