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Red Wolf

In colonial times, red wolves (Canus rufus) ranged throughout the southeast. Today they are one of the most endangered mammal in North America. Visitors to the Virginia Living Museum can enjoy watching red wolves along the museum’s outdoor boardwalk. The red wolves are part of a federal Species Survival Plan.

The red wolf gets its name from the reddish color around its head, ears and legs. However, its coloring can range from light tan to black. It is intermediate in size between the grey wolf and the coyote.

Two red wolves, a father and his son, currently live at the Virginia Living Museum. The father, born in May 2003 and acquired in November 2005 from the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Manteo, N.C. sired seven red wolf pups born at the museum: a female born May 1, 2006, and a litter of six pups born on April 26, 2007. The other two wolves on exhibit are the males from the second litter.

The mother of those pups was born in May 2001 and came to the VLM in January 2003 from the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn. The four female pups were transferred in September 2007 to a holding area at the Alligator River refuge for placement in zoos and nature centers around the country. In December 2007, the mother was transferred to the Salisbury Zoo in Maryland.

Wolf pups weigh about one pound at birth, but within half a year they grow almost as big as their parents.

Historically, red wolves ranged all over the southeastern United States. By the 1970s, all that remained was a small remnant population of red wolves in southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana. Biologists captured all the wolves in this remnant wild population and began a captive breeding program at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash.

In 1980 the species was declared extinct in the wild. Much of the decline of this large predator was due to persecution by humans and loss of habitat.

Beginning in 1987 captive-bred red wolves were reintroduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina. Today there are about 100 red wolves divided into 20 packs or family groups across a designated 1.5 million-acre five-county region that includes three national wildlife refuges. By winter of 2002, all the wolves in the wild population were born in the wild.

Red wolves are being reintroduced into the wild to prevent extinction of the species and to help restore the ecosystems in which they once occurred. Predators maintain the balance and health of ecosystems by controlling populations size prey species and removing unhealthy animals. Red wolves prey on white-tailed deer, raccoons and small mammals, such as rabbits, rodents and nutria.

In addition to the wolves in the wild, there are also about 200 red wolves in captivity at 36 zoos and museums around the country (including the VLM) as part of the federal Red Wolf Recovery captive breeding program.

National Wolf Awareness Week is the third week of October. During this week, the VLM Animal Care staff conducts enrichment at 1 p.m. for the Red Wolves in the Wolf habitat on the outdoor trail.

Here is a helpful film and some related links:

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