The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered wild canids. Once common throughout the southeastern United States, red wolf populations were decimated in the 1960’s due to intensive predator control programs and loss of habitat. A remnant population of red wolves was found along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana. After being declared an endangered species in 1973, efforts were made to locate and capture as many wild red wolves as possible. Of the 17 remaining wolves captured by biologists, 14 became the founders of a successful captive breeding program. Consequently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared red wolves extinct in the wild in 1980.
By 1987, enough red wolves were bred in captivity to begin a restoration program in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. Since then, the experimental population area has expanded to include three national wildlife refuges, a Department of Defense bombing range, state-owned lands, and private property, spanning a total of 1.5 million acres.
Over 100 red wolves roam their native habitats in five northeastern North Carolina counties and approximately 200 comprise the Species Survival Plan captive breeding program in sites across the United States. Interbreeding with the coyote (an exotic species not native to North Carolina) has been recognized as the most significant and detrimental threat affecting restoration of red wolves to this section of their historical home range. Currently, adaptive management efforts are making good progress in reducing the threat of coyotes while building the wild red wolf population in northeastern North Carolina..