The Red Wolf
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. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf coast of Texas and Louisiana. After being declared an endangered species in 1973, efforts were initiated to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible. Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. Consequently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)declared red wolves extinct in the wild in 1980.
By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program to return the species to a portion of their traditional range in the southeast United States. For over two decades the USFWS has been restoring red wolves to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. And in 2004, the WCC joined the recovery effort via its acceptance into the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan and has played a critical role in preserving and protecting these imperiled species through carefully managed breeding and reintroduction. To date, the WCC has welcomed two red wolf litters (2010 and 2014) and a single red wolf from the WCC has been given the extraordinary opportunity to resume his rightful place on the wild landscape. As of the start of 2016, the WCC is home to 8 red wolves. Seven of our resident red wolves occupy one of the enclosures in the WCC's Endangered Species Facility. These enclosures are private and secluded, and the wolves are not on exhibit for the public.The WCC’s eighth red wolf is on exhibit in the Red Wolf Exhibit which opened in October of 2009. For the first time ever visitors to the WCC are given the opportunity to see this rare an elusive species.
In September 2014, the USFWS announced that it would be conducting a review of the red wolf recovery program in eastern North Carolina, per request of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC), to determine if USFWS should continue, modify, or terminate the program that manages the last remaining wild red wolves on our planet. While USFWS continues to review the program (a decision is expected in summer of 2016), it has halted all captive-to-wild releases. Also remaining on hold is a key management activity—the release of sterilized coyotes to prevent hybridization.Red wolves remain among the world’s most endangered species.
On September 12, 2016, USFWS published its long-awaited Red Wolf Program Review. The agency proposes a new rule that significantly changes the size, scope and management of the current red wolf recovery program. USFWS intends to remove almost all of the remaining red wolves from the wild landscape and place them in captivity. The decision will go through a public comment period and could be finalized by December 2017.
On June 28, 2018, USFWS release its notice of intent to propose to replace the existing regulations governing the nonessential experimental population designation of the red wolf (Canis rufus) under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, as published in the Federal Register. Via its proposal, USFWS recommended revising the 10(j) rule using its preferred alternative management action (“Alternative 3”) to:
- Reduce the Red Wolf Experimental Population Area (RWEPA) by 87% (6,500 km2 to 825 km2) by restricting the North Carolina Nonessential Experimental Population (NC NEP) to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) and Dare County Bombing Range;
- Reduce the NC NEP by 90% (150 wolves to 15 wolves) by managing a small group of red wolves on federal land in Dare County;
- Allow the legal take of red wolves that traverse off federal lands in Dare County by removing all prohibitions on the take of wolves on private and state lands;
- Re-implement the Red Wolf Adaptive Management Plan (RWAMP) to manage a small group of wolves on ARNWR and Dare County Bombing Range as a propagation site for future reintroductions.
The current estimate puts the only wild population of red wolves at their lowest level since the late 1990s. Only 24 red wolves are known to remain in the wild.