Red Wolf (Canis rufus)


Biodiversity and Conservation Student Steven Hoelzer



The red wolf is one of the rarest and most endangered in the world.  Predator control programs and hunting have brought this animal to near extinction.  In 1980 there were fewer than twenty wolves that roamed the wild.  These wolves were rounded up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be bred in captivity. The wolves were officially declared extinct in the wild.  By 1987, enough animals had been bred to begin a reintroduction program.  Due to these reintroduction programs there are now fifty to eighty individuals in the wild (3).  There are around 300 red wolves in captivity at zoos across the country.


The red wolf is distinct from is close relatives the gray wolf and the coyote.  Red wolf’s coat ranges from a cinnamon red, to gray and black.  It is much smaller then the gray wolf, but a little larger than the coyote (2).  The red wolf weighs between forty and eighty pounds.


The red wolf once roamed most of the eastern United States and could be found from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas.

 Today, one of the main areas they are being reintroduced is the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


The last remaining red wolves lived in coastal and marsh areas, this is where they are being reintroduced today.  Red wolves need between 10 and 100 square miles of habitat to hunt and live (2).  They live in small packs, which are usually smaller then those of the gray wolf.  They usually hunt alone and consist of a diet of rabbits, raccoons, and other rodents.  On occasion with help from other wolves, they may bring down a white tailed deer.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. rufus



One of the greatest threats to the red wolf is human development of their habitat (3).  Another important threat to the red wolf is accidental mortality due to vehicular accidents. In 2000, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, upheld the right of the U.S. Fish and Wild-life Service to protect endangered red wolves that wander onto private lands(7).  This was a big step to help boost the population of the red wolf in the areas where it is being re-released.  The red wolf also gained some support in 1996 by the senate who upheld a red wolf program.  The program would allow about 1 million dollars to support research and efforts to re-introduce the red wolf into the environment (9).



IUCN Designation:  Red List, Endangered

IUCN Web Site:


As the amount of red wolves are released into the wild and bred in captivity, there has been a positive population trend in the past few years.  With continued education on conservation of the red wolf, and increased funding to red wolf programs, hopefully the red wolf will continue to bred and survive in the wild and once again be a thriving animal on the east coast of North America.



1. "ICUN Red List of Threatened Species Canis Rufus." ICUN. 2004. ICUN. 28 Mar. 2007 <>.


2. "Red Wolf (Canis rufus)." National Parks Conservation Association. 27 Mar. 2008 <>.


3. "Red Wolf." The Wild Ones. 2000. Wild Life Trust. 28 Mar. 2007 <>.


4. "The Red Wolf." Official Site of the Red Wolf Sanctuary and Raptor Rehabilitation Center. 2006. 28 Mar. 2001 <>.


5. “From the Field: Implementing recovery of the red wolf -- integrating research scientists and managers.” By: Stoskopf, Michael K.; Beck, Karen; Fazio, Bud B.; Fuller, Todd K; Gese, Eric M.; Kelly, Brian T.; Knowlton, Frederick F.; Murray, Dennis L.; Waddell, William; Waits, Lisette. Wildlife Society Bulletin, Fall 2005, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p1145-1152.


6. Predicting Red Wolf Release Success in the Southeaster United States.” By: Van Manen, Frank T.; Crawford, Barron A.. Journal of Wildlife Management, Oct 2000, Vol. 64 Issue 4, p895.


7.  Court Upholds Government's Right To Protect Red Wolf.” International Wildlife, Oct 2000, Vol. 30, Issue 5.


8.  Red Wolf Recovery Ends in the Smokies.” By: Lee, David N.B.. Wildlife Conservation, Mar/Apr99, Vol. 102 Issue 2, p11.


9.  “Senate rejects appeal to eliminate red wolf program.Human Events, 8/25/95, Vol. 51 Issue 33, p22.


10.  Red wolves return to Smoky Mountains.National Geographic, May 1992, Vol. 181 Issue 5.