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Recovering a species: red wolf pups born in April
Recovering a Species: Red Wolf Pups Born in April

We are five Red Wolves closer to recovering the iconic American species.

Three males and two females were born in April at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s off-site breeding facility in Eatonville, where the largest Red Wolf population in the world resides.

Adorable and growing fast, the pups are part of the latest success in recovering the only wolf species found solely in the United States. With an estimated 20-22 Red Wolves remaining in the wild in eastern North Carolina, Point Defiance Zoo is doing everything possible to restore this critically endangered species. 

Red Wolf pups are born blind and depend on their mom for food and safety. In their first few weeks of life, they explore by smell and touch, communicating through grunts and squeaks, and nurse from mom. Soon, the pups will become steadier on their feet and begin exploring their habitat. They will also learn how to communicate by howls and will grow quickly in the coming months. By seven months, they will look a lot like adults. And for these pups, a future spent running in the wild and meeting their mates could be on the horizon.

“Pups are vital to the future of this critically endangered species,” said Curator Natalie Davis. Davis also serves as the studbook keeper for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ American Red Wolf Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program. ”These Red Wolves are cared for with as little human interaction as possible to prepare them for potential release and success in the wild.”

Davis said that with the help of 24/7 cameras, keepers observe the parents caring for their pups just as they would in the wild.

“The American Red Wolf is the most critically endangered wolf in the world,” said Davis. “It’s imperative that we ensure any Red Wolves under our care are kept as healthy as possible to benefit their overall recovery plan.”

The pups’ births come on the heels of a successful 2023 that included:

  • 12 Red Wolf pups born at the off-site breeding facility
  • One pup successfully fostered into the wild (placed into the den of wild parents and their similarly aged pups). This helps to enhance the genetic diversity of the wild population.
  • Six adult red wolves from SAFE facilities were released into the wild. One of the wolves was born at Point Defiance Zoo’s off-site facility in 2016. He was moved to the Endangered Wolf Center in Missouri in 2021 on a breeding recommendation. In spring 2022, his mate birthed a pup, and by the fall, the family of three moved to an acclimation pen in North Carolina. In spring 2023, the pair had four more pups, and the family was released into the wild.
  • A Red Wolf born in 2020 at the zoo’s off-site facility was released into the wild in 2023.

Red Wolves once ranged from New York to Texas, but by the late 1960s to 1970s, very few Red Wolves were left in the wild. Excessive hunting, humans moving into their territory, and other animals forced the population to fall to zero. In 1967, USFWS listed Red Wolves as critically endangered under the federal Endangered Species Preservation Act (now the Endangered Species Act).

In the 1980s, Point Defiance Zoo and the USFWS established a zoo-based breeding program with 14 wolves from the wild to restore the population. Today, about 20-22 Red Wolves are in the wild, and over 270 are in human care. Four wolves live at Point Defiance Zoo, and 51 live at the zoo’s off-site breeding facility.

Davis says they are on a positive trajectory despite the setbacks over the years.

“We’re working closely with our Red Wolf partners to restore this population, and I’m very hopeful that Red Wolves will be roaming the South again,” said Davis.