Threats And Dangers To Red Wolves: Are They Going Extinct?

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is the most endangered canid on the planet today. Their numbers are still dwindling despite all efforts and conservation programs to protect the species and increase its population. The red wolf’s chance of survival in the wild doesn’t look good. Can this be changed? Can the red wolf still be saved from extinction?

Join Floofmania in gathering information about the history and present situation of the red wolf. We shall be delving into the threats and dangers that have led the animal to the brink of extinction. 

And finally, we’ll talk about ways and other recommendations that can help in saving the remaining red wolf population and the species as a whole from becoming lost forever.

Let’s get started. 

Are Red Wolves Endangered?

These majestic canids’ population numbers are at critical levels and are considered to be endangered. There was a time before the arrival of Europeans to North America when red wolves were the apex predators in this part of the world. Seeing one in the wild today is like finding a unicorn.

The red wolf roamed the continent and could be found in almost all present-day states and as far as Canada in the north. Today, the only remaining sanctuary of the red wolf in the wild is a small portion of land (5 counties) in the Albermarle Peninsula in eastern North Carolina. Their total numbers aren’t that great either.

Why Are Red Wolves Endangered?

The three main reasons why the red wolf is the most endangered canid species in North America are overhunting, habitat destruction, and hybridization with coyotes. For hundreds of years, the red wolf population was gradually decimated by the aforementioned factors that prevented the species from propagating. 

Overhunting of Red Wolves

In the 19th and 20th centuries, red wolves were treated as pests by locals and authorities. The US government even gave bounties to hunters and trappers for every red wolf surrendered—alive or otherwise. 

Hundreds of years of hunting and trapping red wolves have significantly reduced their population. The canids were persecuted relentlessly until their numbers dwindled to the brink of extinction.

Destruction Of Red Wolf Habitat

It also didn’t help when humans started to claim natural red wolf territory as their own. Red wolves live in areas that have lowland forests, swamps, bushlands, deserts, and wetlands. These habitats have, in many cases, been either converted to agricultural land or developed into residential areas.

The never-ending expansion and overlapping of human communities into red wolf habitats have left the canid without a home. Private landowners either drove resident red wolves away or hunted them for bounties. 

To give you an idea of how vast the red wolf’s natural habitat was, here is a list of states where the red wolf once roamed:

  • Northern Pennsylvania
  • Southern New York
  • Central and eastern Texas
  • Western Louisiana
  • Southeastern Oklahoma
  • Southwestern Illinois
  • Northern Ohio
  • Mississippi
  • Georgia
  • Arkansas
  • Missouri
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky

Their range didn’t stop there. Historical reports even mentioned that all of the southern states once had a red wolf population in them. From Ontario, Canada in the north to northern Mexico in the south, there were red wolves roaming in the wild in all of these areas.

Red Wolf Hybridization With Coyotes

Here is another effect of having fewer red wolves in the wild. Red wolves are the top predators in the areas they occupy. Coyotes, previously non-existent decades ago, have crept into red wolf territories. Without many red wolves to drive them away, the coyotes’ numbers increased.

Hybridization is the biggest threat to the red wolf’s existence. With fewer numbers of red wolves available during the mating season, the red wolf that’s in heat (estrus) has no one to pair with but the coyotes. 

Yes, red wolves and coyotes share the same habitats and cross-breeding will produce hybrid offspring, also called a “coywolf”. Unfortunately, these offspring are not pure red wolves (or pure coyotes) anymore. 

Cross-breeding between species for generations will ultimately have an impact on the population of the purebreds. And in this case, it is the red wolf that suffers the brunt of the dilution of the bloodline

When Did Red Wolves Become Endangered?

The non-stop hunting of red wolves started as soon as Europeans arrived in North America in the 17th century

They brought with them the fairy tale “The Red Riding Hood” and similar folk tales and legends. These stories portray the wolf as an evil creature that is out to harm children and livestock.  This false portrayal has influenced the minds of the people and led to a negative perception toward all wolves in general.

Is The Red Wolf A Protected Species In North America?

The red wolf is listed as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This primary and current law of the United States is designed to protect all types of animal and plant species from extinction. 

Its enlistment to the endangered species list in 1967 was a bit late and ineffective as not much action was done to halt the animal’s persecution. The hunting and trapping of red wolves continued until it was declared extinct in the wild in 1980

How Many Red Wolves Are There In The US and Canada Today

There are only a handful of red wolves left in the wild—and you can count them with your hands. There are only about 10 remaining red wolves in the wild today! Well, you can include your toes in counting if you include the estimated numbers in the wild (19-21 individuals).

The only known home of red wolves in the wild is in a few areas in North Carolina. Most red wolves are now raised in captivity across different facilities in the United States. 

There are no reports of red wolves living in Canada at the present day.

How Many Red Wolves Are There In The World?

Reports about the remaining red wolves in the wild are kind of depressing. Even after the reintroduction of the species in 1987, their numbers haven’t increased to comfortable levels. The number of wolves in the wild had a peak of 135 known individuals in 2011 but plummeted to just less than 60 in 2016. It hasn’t recovered since and in fact, kept on declining over the years.

As of 2022, here are the remaining red wolves left in the world:

Known/Collared in the Wild10
Total Estimate in the Wild19-21
Captive243

As you can see, there are less than 300 remaining red wolves in the world today—and most of them are in captivity. Those are critical levels and should be taken seriously. The number of red wolves in the wild is not even enough to play American football!

Did There Use To Be More Red Wolves?

As mentioned above, red wolves once thrived all across the North American continent. These are very resilient animals and can survive in a wide variety of habitats. There were tens of thousands of red wolves living across the continent in the past. Too bad our generation cannot say the same today.

Can Red Wolves Come Back From The Brink Of Extinction?

As long as there is hope and pure-blooded red wolves alive, the species can still come back and roam the wild. However, the tasks are much easier said than done. The programs and plans to increase the red wolf population have been going on for decades, but setbacks and failures still keep on happening. 

Fortunately, scientists and a large number of people are not giving up. We at Floofmania are not giving up.

In order for the red wolf population to grow at comfortable levels, the following must be done:

  • Restore and expand the red wolf’s natural habitat.
  • Keep the remaining red wolves alive and healthy.
  • Increase the number of breeding pairs.
  • Strengthen public information about the red wolf.

What Might Happen If Red Wolves Went Extinct?

The red wolf is a top predator and removing it from its ecosystem will have severe effects. The loss of the red wolf will lead to the collapse of the ecosystem it lives in. With the remaining red wolves today, surely the disruption in the ecosystem’s equilibrium is already happening as of this moment

The canid is an umbrella species. Its presence affects not just its habitat but also other species living in it.

Umbrella species are usually at the top of the food chain. The red wolf keeps the population of its prey in check. With the numbers of these small animals controlled, the lower members of the food web like the plants, trees, and insects can thrive. Overforaging can be prevented.

What Are The Main Threats To Red Wolves?

To summarize the threats, we can assume that the presence of humans and the change in the red wolf’s natural habitat have affected the animal’s existence. There seems to be a problem with humans co-existing with top predators in the same area. 

Moreover, although there are already laws that are aimed at protecting endangered animals like the red wolf, their implementations are kind of weak. An example of this is the law that allows the harming or trapping of the wolf if it enters a privately-owned property or poses risk to humans and domestic animals. Such a law jeopardizes the conservation and protection programs of the red wolf. 

Are Red Wolves Threatened By Climate Change?

Climate change is among the obstacles in the protection of the red wolf. In Albermarle, the red wolf’s last sanctuary, the increase in sea levels has led to frequent flooding in the areas where red wolves live.

Other effects of climate change include the increased frequency of very strong storms. These freak events can destroy the canid’s habitat as well as those of their prey (small rodents, rabbits, raccoons, and small deer).

Is Habitat Loss A Concern For Red Wolves?

Habitat loss is a serious issue that affects the red wolf’s survivability. The main causes of habitat loss are climate change and man-made structures built on the red wolf’s territories. 

When the red wolf’s habitat is altered or reduced, its numbers and survivability are also affected.

How Do Humans Threaten Red Wolves?

Humans are actually the main threat to the recovery of the red wolf population. Interactions with humans are actually very bad news for red wolves. The canids are always at the losing end when they come across humans.

Red wolves are still in danger whenever they come in contact with humans despite the presence of laws, public awareness campaigns, and protection efforts. Most, if not all known fatal incidents involving red wolves are caused by humans. 

Human activities that threaten the red wolf include:

  • Illegal poaching
  • Use of poisonous chemicals 
  • Vehicle collisions

Are Red Wolves Being Hunted?

Hunting of red wolves is not allowed by law. However, due to some loopholes in the interpretation and implementation of wildlife protection laws, there are still reports of red wolves fatally shot in the wild.

Illegal hunting of red wolves is still rampant, especially in their North Carolina sanctuary. 121 red wolf fatalities were confirmed to be caused by illegal hunting.

Do Red Wolves Have Predators?

Red wolves, strictly speaking, have no natural predators. They are at the top of the food chain and the situations in which the canids become the prey and the hunted come very far and between. 

Red wolves are fierce animals and can hold their own against bigger opponents such as bears and other packs of carnivores like gray wolves and coyotes.

The only situations red wolves become the next meal of other animals are when: 

  • They are weak, sick, or fighting alone.
  • They are too young to fight off other predators.

It is important to note that fighting among canid species is not actually considered a form of predation and experts say it is just an opportunistic situation or a territorial dispute that became fatal.

What Is Being Done To Bring Back The Red Wolf?

Conservation, captive breeding, and repopulation efforts for the red wolves are ongoing. Albeit most of the red wolves living today are under the care of zoos and nature centers in the US, the ultimate goal is to bring these awesome creatures back to the wild—where they belong.

The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP), headed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), is the main program that focuses on the preservation of the red wolf species. This program started in 1984 and includes a set of extensive measures and activities that include:

  • Captive breeding
  • Public education
  • Red wolf care and protection
  • Scientific observation

There are over 40 wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, private companies,  government agencies, and facilities participating in the RWSSP.  

The Captive-To-Wild Fostering Method

One interesting way of reintroducing captive-born red wolves into the wild is the captive-to-wild fostering method. This method is a coordinated effort led by the participants of the Red Wolf Recovery Program and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The program basically involves the integration of captive-born red wolf pups into litters born in the wild that are of the same age. Scientists monitor red wolf dens in their North Carolina sanctuary for newly born pups. Within 7 days, 1-2 pups from the breeding facility are brought to the dens to serve as foster homes for the captive-born pups.

The program has been successful for over a decade now. A number of captive-born pups had been accepted and brought up by their wild foster parents. This method is the best way of teaching captive-born pups how to survive in the wild and learn the ways of the red wolf.

What Can I Do To Help Save Red Wolves?

We can have a part in the efforts of saving the red wolf from being wiped out from the face of the earth. There are still a lot of things to be done. The professionals and experts are dedicated to doing their jobs but we can also contribute in our own little ways.

Here are ways where we, as a community, can get involved:

  • Learn in-depth information about the red wolf, its behavior, and the things it needs to survive.
  • Help in increasing public awareness about wildlife conservation.
  • Support the programs, zoos, and facilities that cater to the preservation of the red wolf and other wildlife.
  • Share your knowledge with your friends and family as well as through other channels like social media, blogs, and mass media.

Author: Jomvie Reyes

Jomvie has been a writer for over 10 years and animals and wildlife are among his favorite topics. Learning and writing about the vast and diverse wildlife from all over the world, is more of a hobby than a job for him. Jomvie loves to watch and observe these remarkable species up close and personal.

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