Help Red Wolves
Swift. Lean. Alert. The Red Wolf had nearly vanished from the wild in the 1970s, reduced to just 14 animals. But thanks to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and other groups, this all-American animal has been brought back from the brink of extinction.
Saved from extinction
By 1980, there were just 14 pure wolves in the wild, due to predator control and coyote interbreeding. These were brought into human care, including Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, as part of the American Red Wolf Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program, managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Today 50 approved facilities work together as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ American Red Wolf Saving Animals from Extinction program to ensure Red Wolf survival. The zoo population has grown to about 270 wolves, but there are only around 20 in the wild.
Red Wolf history
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 Red Wolf is a unique species of wolf (scientifically known as Canis rufus), smaller than the Gray Wolf but larger than the coyote.
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.
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 Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program 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.