Red Wolf Conservation

In the 1970s, only 14 pure Red Wolves roamed the planet. By 1980, those wolves had been removed from the wild to establish a breeding program to restore the population.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium joined forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 1984 to establish a long-term propagation program for the Red Wolf and to include it in a Species Survival Plan (SSP), along with hundreds of other animals.

Today more than 40 approved facilities work together as part of the Red Wolf SSP to ensure Red Wolf survival. Since the creation of the breeding program, the population of Red Wolves has increased dramatically, with their numbers now at nearly 200 in the SSP and about 50 wolves in the wild.

Extensive statistical analysis of the population and careful attention to the details of managing a very small gene pool has helped to maintain genetic diversity for the wolves. Genome resource banking and assisted reproduction techniques are also being studied and used as tools to help better manage the Red Wolf population.

One of the most significant aspects of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan has been the successful management of a reintroduced wolf population to the wild. The goal from the start of the breeding program has been to put the Red Wolf back into its natural habitat. Great care had to be taken to maintain the wolves' natural instincts and minimize human contact. All the efforts of those involved in the breeding and reintroduction programs proved successful as the first Red Wolves were released to a native habitat at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC in 1987. Each reintroduced wolf wore a radio collar so that it could be tracked and studied.

A year after the first wolves were reintroduced to the refuge, the first wild wolf pups were born.

Additional Information

The history of the Red Wolf can be traced back hundreds of years, when its range once covered much of the eastern United States from as far north as Pennsylvania and New York to as far west as Texas. Much of the Red Wolf's former range has been lost due to human expansion and development. Red Wolf numbers continued to decline as a result of predator control programs and led to interspecies breeding between Red Wolves and coyotes, causing a further loss to the population of pure Red Wolves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently recognizes the Red Wolf as a unique species of wolf (scientifically known as Canis rufus), smaller than the Gray Wolf but larger than the coyote.

Toward the Future

Since that first reintroduction in 1987, many other wolves have successfully bred in the SSP and the wild. The reintroduced wolves continue to survive and breed successfully, helping to bolster the world population to approximately 300 individual wolves.

Conservation and reintroduction have not only helped to keep the species from extinction, but restore the ecosystems where they once lived. As key predators, Red Wolves maintain the balance and population of the different species they prey upon.

The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan continues to be an outstanding example of successful zoo-based conservation. With the future of the Red Wolf still in question, biologists continue to study these amazing animals to help ensure their continued survival.