In colonial times, red wolves ranged throughout the southeast. Today they are 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.
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 over populations of 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 38 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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