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Red wolves face extinction for second time

Red Wolf depicted by John Woodhouse Audubon in 1851
Red Wolf depicted by John Woodhouse Audubon in 1851

Red wolves are making their last stand in the wilds of North Carolina.

After a successful reintroduction and breeding program, only about 100 of these beautiful animals cling to survival in the eastern part of the state.

Red wolves once roamed across the southeastern United States. Today, they are making their last stand in the scrub forests of eastern North Carolina. One of the leading causes of red wolf deaths is gunshot mortality, including from hunters who mistake the small wolves for coyotes.

While red wolves originally roamed across the southeastern part of the United States extending from the Ohio Valley and central Pennsylvania down to southeastern Missouri and central Texas, the animals were pronounced “extinct” in 1978 although 14 were found alive in the Gulf areas of Louisiana and Texas by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and brought to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, located on 29 acres in Tacoma, WA, where they were bred in captivity.

Today, their descendants can be found in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Great Smokey Mountains National Park, where the last remaining 100 wild red wolves can be found roaming through nearly 2 million acres across 5 counties. Another (approximately 207 as of 2007) reside in 38 breeding facilities throughout the country.

Unfortunately, despite all their hard work to save the species, the Fish and Wildlife service is under increasing pressure from anti-wolf groups to abandon their efforts, and the animals are once again facing extinction at the hands of hunters, many of which often mistake them for coyotes, although the wolves are taller, standing approximately 26 inches at shoulders and about 5-feet long from snout to tail. Adults are also the size of medium to large dogs, weighing anywhere from 50-80 lb.

Red wolves are rather shy animals, which are most active at night, and tend to hunt either alone or in small groups. They also have complex social structures with upper and lower hierarchies among members of their packs, and communicate with each other by howling and other vocalizations, as well as facial expressions, body language and marking scents. They also mate for life. Life expectancy among wild red wolves is approximately 7 years, although those kept in captivity have been known to live as long as 15 years.

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