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Red wolf

The red wolf (Canis rufus) was once found throughout forested regions from southern New England to the Gulf Coast [1]. By 1920, the red wolf was considered extirpated from the Southern Atlantic States [1]. By 1970 the population had declined to less than 100 wolves and was confined to a small area of coastal Texas and Louisiana [1]. These declines were the result of aggressive predator control programs and the loss of forest habitat [1].

Early recovery attempts were largely unsuccessful and as the last Red-wolf population continued to decline, remaining individuals began mating with coyotes [2]. As a result of such hybridizations the number of genetically pure Red wolves decreased and further contributed to the species decline [2]. In a final attempt to save the species, 17 genetically pure red wolves were eventually captured for captive breeding efforts [1].

The red wolf captive breeding program established at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington was able to successfully breed 14 of the original wolves and the first reintroduction occurred in 1978 on Bulls Island off the coast of South Carolina [1]. In 1980, the last remaining wild Red wolves were brought into captivity and the species was declared extinct in the wild [2]. The captive breeding program continued, however, and has now expanded to include 38 zoos and nature centers in 23 states [1]. In 1988 the first wild-born litter since reintroductions began was found at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina [1].

Red wolves have now been re-introduced into areas in North and South Carolina, Great Smokey National Park in Tennessee, and on three islands off the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts [2]. Introductions to the coastal islands have acted as a stepping stone between captivity and the wild; although the islands are too small to support wolf populations, they provide an opportunity for the wolves to breed and exist in the wild and to produce animals for future mainland reintroductions [1].

In 2003, approximately 100 Red wolves existed in the wild with another 157 held in captive breeding facilities (this includes two island propagation programs). In 2004, 11 of 22 packs had created dens [2].

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2004. Alligator River National WIldlife Refuge: Red Wolf Re-establishment Program. Website <http://www.outer-banks.com/alligator-river/redwolf.asp>.
[2] International Wolf Center. 2006. Timeline: The Red Wolf in the Southeastern United States. Website <http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/basic/history/red_timeline.asp>

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