The World’s Most Lonely Canid: Red Wolves’ Long Struggle to Survive
America’s red wolves are known for their distinctive red hue and elusive presence. After decades of struggle, red wolves are the world’s most endangered canid. Due to an increase in the U.S. population of almost 400,000 more humans yearly and their associated activities, they have lost over 99% of their historic range; more than any other large carnivore. Red wolves are the only large predator with a historic range that lies entirely within the United States, yet are now exclusively found within North Carolina.
In 1973, red wolves were officially listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1980, hunting, habitat loss, and vehicular collisions caused the species to be declared extinct in the wild. After years of recovery efforts under the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) program carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), 60 captive-bred red wolves were released into the wild between 1987-1994.
In 2012, the wild red wolf population reached as many as 120 individuals in eastern North Carolina, who were either once again gunned down or became the victims of vehicular strikes. As of February 2022, the Center for Biological Diversity indicated that only 8 known red wolves remain in the wild in North Carolina. USFWS states that there are 241 red wolves in captivity.
Despite the efforts of captive breeding programs to release red wolves into the wild, a small group of humans within the animals’ recovery area are to blame for pushing the species toward extinction. The main threats to survival continue to be illegal hunting, vehicle strikes, and habitat loss.
All is not lost for red wolves. For the first time in four years, a pair of wild red wolves gave birth to a litter of six pups, four females and two males. Captive breeding programs can be successful when destructive humans do not interfere and land is left for them to utilize. We must advocate for red wolves to be protected from illegal poaching under the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife corridors and crossings must also be established to decrease deadly collisions with vehicles. If concerted efforts are implemented by federal, state, and local authorities, as well as community members, these iconic animals may have a chance to survive in the future.