The red wolf is a species of canine that was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. However, it was once found throughout much of the Southeastern United States. It is closely related to the grey wolf and the coyote, and a genetic study from 2011 suggested that the red wolf could be a hybrid of these species. There is much debate as to whether the red wolf is a hybrid species or an independent species and the most recent study has shown that red, eastern and grey wolves are indeed different species. Red wolves have been successfully bred in captivity and a number have been reintroduced into the wild. However, there are less than 200 in the wild and they are considered to be critically endangered. Let’s find out why this species is threatened with extinction.
Why is the red wolf endangered?
There are a number of reasons that the red wolf is endangered and, unfortunately, many of these are caused by humans. As the human population grows more forests are cleared, which removes important habitat for red wolves. These animals also faced threats from humans in the form of hunting. They were commonly hunted for game and by farmers and ranchers because they would prey on livestock. Threats from other wolves and coyotes may have also played a smaller role. Another controversial theory is that interbreeding with coyotes has diminished the genetic population of red wolves, which has impacted on their social structure.
What is being done to save this species?
Conservation efforts continue to focus on breeding in captivity with the intention of introducing these animals into the wild. The aim is to support the current wild population and increase the numbers of red wolves so that they can begin to naturally build the population. The first captive breeding programs began in 1973 and by 2007 there were about 100 wolves in the wild and about 200 in captivity.
Did you know?
Many of the first wolves bred in captivity were actually hybrids. Of the 400 wolves captured only 43 were thought to be red wolves. However, after breeding it was determined that only 17 were pure red wolves!