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Study Suggests Small Minority of Local Poachers are a Significant Threat to Critically Endangered Red Wolves

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A new study published in Biological Conservation reveals that while a majority of people living in and around the Red Wolf Recovery Area (RWRA) in North Carolina are supportive of red wolves and their recovery, a small group of people are driving red wolves to extinction through illegal killing.

Researchers anonymously surveyed residents within the five-county RWRA (Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington counties) and the four adjacent counties (Pitt, Craven, Pamlico, Martin); they also conducted in-depth interviews with key informants. Survey topics included attitudes toward red wolves, support for red wolf conservation, trust for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and inclination to kill red wolves, among other items. Ultimately, a majority of respondents indicated support for red wolves and their recovery efforts, and expressed an extremely low inclination to poach red wolves. However, male hunters had the highest average inclination to poach red wolves and the lowest level of acceptance of red wolves.

Five-county red wolf recovery area and adjacent counties in North Carolina. Agan et al., 2021

These findings are cause for concern because even though a majority of respondents support red wolf recovery and protections, a small group of people are driving red wolves to extinction. Special interest groups and individuals are also pushing the USFWS to loosen Endangered Species Act protections or even abandon recovery efforts completely.

With only 9 red wolves known to remain in the wild, USFWS needs to recommit to red wolf protections and outreach and punish poaching to the full extent of the law. A decrease in red wolf protections or a refusal to seek justice for illegally killed red wolves can signal to would-be poachers that red wolves have no value, thereby increasing future poaching incidents.


Red wolves (Canis rufus) are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and are classified as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. As of September 2021, there are currently 9 known to remain in the wild in North Carolina.

Data sourced from Hinton et al, 2016Red Wolf Species Status Assessment 2018USFWS