Deven, one of the red wolves released into the wild. [Photo, Wolf Conservation Center

Deven, one of the red wolves released into the wild. [Photo, Wolf Conservation Center

Red wolves once roamed east of the Mississippi River from Pennsylvania to Florida. Considered a distinct species of wolves, the red wolf is smaller than most wolves.

It is almost extinct in the wild now—in fact, was extinct in the wild at one time as hunting and loss of habitat took its toll.

But the red wolf is once again part of the environment, reintroduced into the wild in an ambitious plan in the 1980s to reintroduce the species in Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, just across Croatan Sound from the Outer Banks.

The plan met with initial success. At one time in the late 1990s there were as many as 200 red wolves roaming the 170,000 acres (265 square miles) of ARNWR and Pocosin Lakes Wilderness Area as well a some adjacent lands.

Farmers neighboring the recovery areas, though, complained that the wolf was a dangerous predator that was raiding their livestock, although there have been very few confirmed cases of that. The more likely culprit wold be a coyote, a canine that looks similar to the red wolf.

To protect their livestock, farmers and hunters were allowed a “lethal take”—the killing of a dangerous predator at any time.

At the same time that the hunting of red wolves was permitted, the coyote population was growing rapidly and a coyote can mate with a red wolf creating hybrids.

The mating of coyotes with red wolves occurred when US Fish and Wildlife stopped a coyote sterilization program in the release area.

The result was a precipitous drop in the population. It is thought there are only seven red wolves remaining in the recovery area.

Actions Taken to Protect the Species

Protection has resumed, though. Court action has stopped the lethal take in the release area, and USFW has been ordered to resume the sterilization program.

And now, wolf pups from selected breeding programs throughout the US are being reintroduced into the wild.

The process is just starting up again, but the early signs are hopeful. Perhaps someday soon, the red wolves will again be part of the environment.

The Outer Banks is filled with the wonders of nature. Take some time to explore what this ribbon of sand by the sea has to offer with a stay in a Brindley Beach Vacations home.