Wolves of the World
North Carolina

North Carolina at a glance

Once common throughout the Southeast as far west as Texas and southeastern Missouri and as far north as the Ohio River Valley (evidence now suggests red wolves may have ranged as far north as southern Ontario), red wolf populations were decimated by the 1960s as a result of aggressive predator control programs and loss of habitat. 

In 1968 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began a study of wild red wolves in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana where the last remaining red wolves ranged. Beginning in 1974, the USFWS initiated efforts to locate and capture as many of the remaining wild red wolves as possible. Only 14 of the animals captured in marginal habitat along the coast of western LA and eastern TX met the criteria established by biologists to define the species. The rest had hybridized with coyotes. This small remnant population of pure red wolves was all that stood between red wolf existence and extinction.

Red wolves were declared officially extinct in the wild in 1980, but they bred successfully in captivity at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, WA with the 14 pure red wolves serving as the founding population for the captive management program. In 1987 the first red wolf reintroduction project released four pairs of red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in northeastern North Carolina.

The current recovery area is comprised of five counties on more than 1.7 million acres that includes three national wildlife refuges (Alligator River, Pocosin Lakes and Mattamuskeet), a U.S. Air Force bombing range, and several hundred thousand acres of private land. Today, there are 41 Species Survival Plan captive management facilities throughout the United States with a total captive population (including pups) of 198 wolves. As of July 2012, an estimated 700 red wolf pups have been born in the wild in North Carolina since 1987, and approximately 941 pups have been born in the captive breeding program since 1977. Main prey for wolves here are deer, raccoon, nutria and rabbits. Red wolves in North Carolina range in less than 5 percent of the map shown, with all wolves in the northeastern part of the state. Range lines are not depicted.

Species Information

Common Name: red wolf
Latin Name: Canis rufus

Current Wolf Population, Trend, Status
Number of wolves: 90 - 110
Population trend: Stable/slightly increasing
Legal status: Federal protection, with some exceptions

Most recent data available: 2012

Human Relationships

Attitudes & Issues

Support is strong for red wolves in the 5-county red wolf recovery area in northeastern NC. However, resistance to any canid (wolf or coyote) on the landscape is strong among some locals who consider red wolves detrimental to deer populations and who do not like federal wildlife recovery programs. No major depredation by red wolves occurs because the area is not a livestock-growing region.
Five major issues threaten the long-term survival of wild red wolves. Because this population is the only one in the world critical that these issues be addressed, something the US Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Team and the Red Wolf Coalition are actively doing:
  1. Potential hybridization with coyotes
  2. Gunshot mortality Young red wolves resemble coyotes and are shot during hunting season. Sometimes breeders are shot, too, and this is devastating to the population.
  3. The issue of night hunting of coyotes and feral hogs throughout the state of NC, including the recovery region. For updates, see www.redwolves.com.
  4. Sea-level rise and the potential for massive flooding in the recovery area due to storm surges.
  5. The need to find two more reintroduction sites for red wolves as mandated by the recovery plan under the Endangered Species Act.

History - Red Wolf Timeline

Recovery & Management


When wolves or other predators kill or maim domestic animals we call this "depredation." Complaints of depredation are handled somewhat differently in each state. In Minnesota, a state conservation officer or a county extension agent starts the documentation and claim process. Complaints are verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services. The complainant provides an estimated value of the loss, but the final value is determined by a county extension agent or other appointed agent. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture processes the payment.

In the western states, the USDA Wildlife Services and the U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service cooperatively document and resolve complaints. The Defenders of Wildlife, a private environmental group, pays for verified complaints.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) works to manage depredation, discover new management methods including non-lethal wolf control and prevent depredation through research and public relations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center is the federal institution devoted to resolving problems caused by the interaction of wild animals and society. The Center applies scientific expertise to the development of practical methods to resolve these problems and to maintain the quality of the environments shared with wildlife.

In North Carolina, red wolves cause minimal depredation issues.

Visit the USDA APHIS Wildlife Services site for information on how the federal government manages depredating wildlife, resolves conflict between wildlife and humans and for contact information by state.

Related Links & Information


Red Wolf Biology