The red wolf, the most endangered canine species in the world | Wildlife in the news | Mail from Pikes Peak


Red wolves (Canis rufus) are the most endangered canid species, with fewer than 10 in the wild worldwide. We will soon have some at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center to help them with their species survival plan!

Red wolves used to occupy most of the southeastern United States, but nearly became extinct in the 1970s due to overhunting and habitat loss. It was decided that red wolves were a species worth trying to save, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the remaining wild red wolves and started a captive breeding program at the zoo and Point Defiance Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Four pairs were introduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the North Carolina coast in 1987, which began the first-ever reintroduction of wolves to the United States. This served as a pilot program for further reintroductions in other parts of the country. ARNWR is now the only known place in the world where red wolves are found in the wild.

The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan is run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to increase the survivability of red wolves with the help of AZA institutions. These facilities not only house red wolves, but participate in carefully selected breeding programs to enhance genetic diversity and preserve the species. They also help educate the public about the issues these animals face. Programs like these are essential to the survival of endangered species, and we at CWWC are thrilled to be a part of this initiative!

Red wolves are a much smaller species of canid than the gray wolf. They average 45 to 80 pounds, stand about 26 inches at the shoulder, and four feet long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Their coat is mostly brown with a reddish tinge along the ears, neck, and legs. Due to their small size, they are often mistaken for coyotes. The coyotes moved into wolf territory after the wolves were nearly wiped out; this led to the Red Wolves interbreeding with the Coyotes. It’s a big problem! Why? Because wolf-coyote offspring are not protected under the Endangered Species Act, making it difficult to preserve the species. Adaptive management techniques, such as neutering territorial coyotes, have been implemented to maintain the integrity of red wolf genetics.

We have high hopes that with ever-expanding captive breeding programs, education and research, red wolves can once again thrive in the wild where they belong. The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center plans to have red wolves at our facilities within the next year, which means you may have the opportunity to see and learn more about this critically endangered species. .

Lorianne Willingham is team leader at Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. She started as a volunteer in the summer of 2019 after earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of North Texas. Animals have always been Lorraine’s passion, and she will soon follow that passion to Australia to expand my knowledge and experience with other species.

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