Where Can Red Wolves Be Found? (And Where Did They Used to Be?)

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Although wolves are some of the most common animals in North America, that is only true if you count all the species. In reality, some wolf species are more common than others; unfortunately, the red wolf is not one of them. 

Red wolves are considered the world’s rarest species of wolves. Aside from being found only in North America, they have experienced a steep population decline, making them nearly impossible to find in the wild. 

Today, they are only found in a handful of places, mostly in conservation centers and reserves such as the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and the 

Wolf Conservation Center of New York. This situation sharply contrasts with just a few decades ago when they could have been found in multiple states. 

To learn more about what is happening to the red wolves, join us here in Floofmania. 

Are Red Wolves Native To North America?

Red wolves are a species native to North America and mostly found in the United States. More specifically, their historic range primarily consisted of the United States’s central and eastern regions stretching from Texas to Pennsylvania, though they have been occasionally found farther north and south than that in Mexico and Canada.

These canines used to thrive in habitats such as swamps, forests, and prairies, commonplace in these parts of the country. A few of these areas still have pockets of red wolves today, though this represents only a portion of their original population.

Fact: Although red wolves only number a few hundred individuals, their DNA has been found in other animals, such as gray wolves and coyotes. The presence of this ‘ghost DNA’ gives researchers hope to use this discovery to find more viable mates for red wolves. 

Slender looking red wolf standing on a tree trunk and looking in the distance.

Where In The US are Most Red Wolves Found?

Today, the range of red wolves is only a tiny fraction of what it once wes, with the largest confirmed wild population in North Carolina. Within this state is Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, the central refuge and conservation area for red wolves. 

Aside from the reserve, the surrounding counties also report some red wolves from time to time, as the reserve occasionally releases adult red wolves into the wild. This area represents the largest population of wild red wolves left, which numbers about a few dozen individuals. These five counties are located on a peninsula between the Albermarle and Pamlico Sounds.

  • Beaufort County 
  • Dare County 
  • Hyde County 
  • Tyrrell County 
  • Washington County

Aside from these areas, any remaining red wolves are found in zoos or other breeding facilities scattered across the rest of the country. These are estimated to number about 220 individuals, though there are goals to increase that number to 400.

There are occasional reports of red wolves being spotted in other places, though these rumors should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Fact: About a decade ago, the population of wild red wolves in North Carolina reached as high as over 200. However, with so many red wolves roaming around, there was also an increase in hunting and car accidents, forcing the repopulation program to pause its operations until recently.

What Kind Of Environment or Habitat Do Red Wolves Prefer?

Red wolves are known as habitat generalists, meaning they are adapted to survive in various habitats. This versatility allowed these clever animals to spread so far and wide in the past.

In particular, red wolves prefer places that have plenty of smaller animals. Being territorial and pack-oriented animals, red wolves require plenty of territory for their pack to live and sustain themselves.

Places like swamps, forests, wetlands, and bushlands are some of the most popular options. They have been known to survive in arid areas like Texas as well and can also survive the cold winters of the North.

Red wolves were once found across the east and central parts of the US, stretching across the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. 

Red wolves also prefer places far from human activity as they have learned to avoid people. One reason the red wolves are being repopulated in North Carolina is that the selected location is far from human activity, with few major roads or towns. It also has fertile wetland soil, which allows plenty of wildlife to thrive there, giving the red wolves plenty of prey to hunt. 

Two red wolves standing in the beginning darkness in a forest with ears sligtly to the side.

Are There Red Wolves In My State?

Despite the hardships the red wolves have faced, they can still be found in a handful of places in the US and even in the wild.

North Carolina has Becomes the Red Wolves’ Home State

The last remaining bastion of wild red wolves is in North Carolina. Since their near extinction in the 80s, the remaining red wolves have been brought here for research and breeding programs to try and reverse the population decline. 

This state has been the focus of the repopulation effort with the breeding center and the counties where wild red wolves are released. 

There are 20-30 red wolves in the wild, and many more in captivity within the state, most of whom are centered around coastal wetlands in the eastern part of the state. Alligator river is the only area designated for red wolves to be released in the wild. So if you ever want to catch a glimpse of red wolves in their natural habitat, this is the only place.

Red wolves exist in other states, but these are primarily in captivity.

Florida Hosts Non-Essential Red Wolf Research

In 2017, Florida was marked as another state to house red wolves in captivity. Just off the coast of the mainland is St. Vincent’s island, a small nature reserve where a pair of red wolves have been released. 

The researchers have brought the red wolves here for what they consider non-essential research. Red wolves are brought there as a breeding ground and help them acclimate to living in the wilderness while remaining in a controlled environment.

Texas Research Hopes to Improve Captive Red Wolf Breeding

In 2009, Texas again saw red wolves on its soil, albeit in captivity for the first time in almost 30 years. The Fossil Rim Wildlife Center has become home to one of the most crucial breeding centers for the red wolves’ restoration project, and in recent years, they have begun ramping up captive breeding.

With new grants, they have increased the size of their pens for breeding individuals and provide shelter for those too old or young to breed. So far, 31 pups have been born at their facilities. Once these pups reach adulthood, they are either sent to other breed facilities or released into the wild in North Carolina. 

Two red wolves with fluffy fur.

Tennessee Helps Raise Awareness About Red Wolves

Half a dozen red wolves are used as part of a  breeding program in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Aside from conservation, these wolves are ambassadors to the fight against extinction. 

While the scientists work hard to rebuild the population, the reserve understands that the public needs to see what the fight is about. To do that, they often show off some of the red wolves and explain their situation to help raise awareness about the conservation effort and convince people to provide whatever support they can.

Fact: There have been attempts to reintroduce red wolves into Smokey Mountain, Tennessee, but these efforts failed due to a high mortality rate.

South Carolina is Becoming a New Breeding Center For Red Wolves

As efforts to increase the number of red wolves in captivity ramps up, it requires more places to host newborn pups. One of the places selected as a new breeding ground for red wolves is Brookgreen, South Carolina. Efforts are now underway to expand the size of these places to support a larger captive population.

Aside from just captive populations, there are also some talks of creating a second area to release wild red wolves into. The 259,000-acre Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina is one possible location where red wolves can be released, though some issues still need to be ironed out. 

The US States Where There Aren’t Any Red Wolves

The answer to this question is complicated as there can be different definitions. Technically speaking, North Carolina is the only state where red wolves exist in the wild, as Alligator River is the only designated release area for wild red wolves. So if you count only wild wolves, North Carolina is the only place.

If you are counting breeding populations and zoos, though, then it becomes more complicated. Although North Carolina holds the lion’s share of red wolves, there are as many as 220 individuals scattered throughout the country in 44 breeding facilities.

Many of these places also regularly display our fearsome friends to help raise awareness of their plight.

These facilities are divided among 24 states, leaving 26 without red wolves. The states without red wolves are;

  • Alabama 
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho 
  • Indiana
  • Iowa Kansas
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma 
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah 
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

Are There Red Wolves In Canada?

Red wolves have been spotted as far north as southern Ontario during their populations’ peak. However, even during that time, Canada was at the edge of their range. Although they can survive in cold climates, the northern, arctic parts of Canada are too cold for the red wolf to thrive.

Today, red wolves are nearly impossible to find outside a handful of counties in North Carolina, meaning they are effectively extinct in places like Canada.

Are There Red Wolves In Latin and South America?

Just as red wolves sometimes appeared to our neighbors in the north, in the past, some red wolves found their way to our southern neighbors in Mexico. 

Red wolf standing between boulders.

Some Red Wolves Used To Appear in Mexico

With the border between the US and Mexico being vast expanses of plains and flatlands, it has been easy for animals such as red wolves to travel back and forth. During the height of the red wolf population decline in the 70s, scientists were quite surprised when a small population of five was found across the border in Mexico.

These five were taken in by the authorities and used for a breeding program back in the US.

Aside from this small population, there may be more red wolves in Mexico, though not in the form we think. Being closely related to other canids like coyotes and gray wolves, interbreeding between the species is common, so many hybrid animals contain red wolves’ genes. Whether or not they are actual red wolves, though, is questionable.

There Are No Red Wolves in South America

Although red wolves are known for having a wide range, South America is far beyond their usual habitat. There have never been red wolves, or any wolves for that matter, in the continent. If there ever had been wolves in South America, these were most likely only kept in captivity or illegally brought there.

Compared to other ecosystems, rainforests are less suitable for wolves to live in as other predators now fill their ecological niche.

There is only one known ‘wolf’ species, the maned wolf which coincidentally also has red fur like red wolves, but they are not even actual wolves as they are more closely related to foxes than true wolves.

Are There Red Wolves In The Rest Of The World?

Wolves are a global species and have been found far beyond just North America. Their populations span the UK to China and encompass dozens of different species, but as already stated before, wild red wolves live exclusively in North Carolina in the US. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t look-alikes. 

There Are Red Wolf Look-Alikes in Europe

Closeup of a red wolf with one ear tilted a bit.

The climate of Europe is similar to the US, and like the US, Europe also has its share of wolves. There are estimated tens of thousands of wolves in Europe, divided into several species.

None of these wolves aren’t the same as the red wolves, as these are found only in the US. While some of them might look similar, sporting a reddish or brown coat, that is where the similarities end, as they are more closely related to grey wolves.

There Are No Wolves in Australia

Two Australian dingoes standing next to one another.

Like in South America, there are no official wolf species in Australia, and their arid environment is less suitable for any species of wolves to thrive. The closest animals they have in Australia are dingos.

Dingos tend to be smaller and have shorter fur, though they do tend to also have a reddish color. Although they share the same tawny appearance and are from the same family as red wolves, they are a completely different species from wolves in general. 

Africa Has Its Own Red Wolves

In the highlands of Ethiopia, there is another rare canid famous for its red fur, the Ethiopian wolf. These beautiful animals are some of the rarest canids in the world and make their homes in the highlands of east Africa. 

Although they’re known as wolves, they’re leaner and more lightly built than their western cousins. This makes them suited for survival in the arid climates of Africa. Some people mistake them for foxes or jackals. In fact, these are the only actual wolves in Africa.

Fact: Like red wolves, the Ethiopian wolves also face the threat of extinction for the same reasons. Ranchers and farmers hunt these powerful mammals to make room for their property and to prevent them from hurting their livestock.

The Dhole is the Red Wolf of Asia

A Dhole sitting on barren soil.

In Asia, the closest thing you’ll find to red wolves is the Dholes, otherwise known as the red dog or whistling dog. These canids are about the size of a German shepherd but resemble wolves and foxes with long legs and a powerful jump, though perhaps the most striking thing about them is the bright red fur they sport.

Dholes are not wolves, and there have been some issues classifying them as they don’t fit neatly into a single category. Instead, they have the qualities of wolves and foxes and are classified as wild dogs. Whatever they are, though, they are a sight to behold. 

Did Red Wolves Use To Be More Widespread?

Closeup of a red wolf with a small branch with leaves in the foreground.

About 70 years ago, you could have found red wolves all over the east coast and midwest of the US, and you might have seen some in the northern parts of Mexico or the southern parts of Canada. Today, you would be lucky to find them even in nature preserves.

Unfortunately, red wolves have experienced a massive drop in population in the past century. This decimation came from habitat loss and a concerted hunting effort by settlers to control the number of predators and settle the land. Many farmers saw red wolves as a threat to their property and hunted them down, causing their numbers to crash.

The increased hunting and environmental damage didn’t just affect red wolves either. Other animals like coyotes and gray wolves felt the pressure, increasing the competition between the species over territory and resources. For red wolves, this only put further strain on the already struggling population.

By the 70s, only a few scattered populations remained in North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, and a few other states. Most of those remaining red wolves were captured and brought to special conservation centers where they could breed and repopulate their numbers. 

While this did prevent total extinction, it further limited their population and left them effectively extinct in the wild.

Are Red Wolves Returning To Some Areas?

Aside from breeding red wolves, another primary goal of the conservation efforts is to repopulate them in the wild. To that end, some red wolves are released back into the wilderness from time to time. So far, most of the efforts to reintroduce red wolves in the wild are concentrated around North Carolina, where the main project occurs.

The researchers have begun releasing red wolves in areas around the county where human activity will not disturb them. These places are sparsely populated and don’t have much infrastructure, making them the ideal place to release red wolves.

Red wolf standing among gree herbs, its head turned toward the camera.

Outside of North Carolina, another place where red wolves have returned is St. Vincent’s Island in Florida. This island is mainly uninhabited by people but has a nature preserve, making it an ideal spot for red wolves.

A pair had been transported there to live in a wild but somewhat controlled setting. The hope is that these red wolves can form their own population there.

In the past, there were attempts to release red wolves in Smoky Mountain in Tennessee, though this project failed and had to be scrapped after a short time.

Fact: Attempts to reintroduce red wolves in the wild have been met with mixed success. Last year, ten adult red wolves were reintroduced into the wild. Unfortunately, three were hunted, and several more had to be returned to the reserve due to having difficulty surviving independently, though one pair was successfully able to breed and produced four new cubs. 

Red wolf walking head down on the ground next to tree roots.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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