The red wolf is the world’s most endangered wolf. Once common throughout the Eastern and South Central United States, red wolf populations were decimated by the early 20th century as a result of intensive predator control programs, as well as the degradation and alteration of the habitat that the species depends upon. When the red wolf was first designated as a species that was threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated efforts to conserve and recover the species. Today, about 15 to 17 red wolves roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina as a nonessential experimental population, and approximately 241 red wolves are maintained in 45 captive breeding facilities throughout the United States.
In the late 1970s, red wolves in the wild were found only in southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana in coastal prairie and marsh habitat. However, any habitat in the southeastern United States of sufficient size, which provides adequate food, water and cover, could be suitable for the red wolf. Telemetry studies in eastern North Carolina indicate that red wolf home range requirements vary from about 20 to 80 square miles, depending on availability of prey.
Although the exact diet of red wolves varies depending on available prey, it usually consists of a combination of white-tailed deer, raccoons and smaller mammals like rabbits, rodents and nutria. The red wolf is an opportunistic feeder and can travel up to 20 miles a day or more to find food, which can be consumed at a rate of two to five pounds daily.
Red wolves are social animals that live in close-knit packs. Typical packs consist of a family group that is comprised of five to eight animals, including a breeding adult pair and their offspring of different years. Older offspring will often assist the breeding pair in pup rearing. Almost all offspring between one and two years of age will leave the pack or disperse to form their own pack.
Red wolves tend to form pair-bonds for life and mate once a year in February. Pups are typically born in April or May in well-hidden dens that may be located in hollow trees, stream banks and sand knolls. Dens have also been found in holes that have been dug in the ground near downed logs or forest debris piles. Fewer than half of wolf pups born in the wild survive to adulthood. Survival rates are affected by disease, malnutrition and predation.
Red wolves have specific territories that they actively defend against other canids, including other wolves. Most active at dusk and dawn, red wolves are elusive and generally avoid humans and human activity.
Red wolves have wide heads with broad muzzles, tall pointed ears and long, slender legs with large feet. Red wolves stand about 26 inches at their shoulder and are about 4 feet long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail.
Adult red wolves range in weight from about 45 to 80 pounds.
Red wolves are mostly brown and buff colored, with some black along their backs and often with a reddish color on their ears, head and legs.
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