Red Wolves of Alligator River
The red wolf (Canis rufus) suffered huge population and habitat losses throughout the 20th century, and was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1967. The species continued to decline after that, resulting in a 1973 decision to remove them from the wild and place them in captivity for breeding purposes. By 1980, there were no red wolves in the wild.
In 1987, red wolves were reintroduced to the wild at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina. This reintroduction marked the first attempt to reintroduce a carnivore declared extinct in the wild to a portion of its former range. Today, a free-ranging population of red wolves inhabits about one and one-half million acres of federal, private and state lands in northeastern North Carolina.
During January of 1995, the very first red wolf arrived at the North Carolina Zoo, marking our entry into the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (RWSSP). Participants in any SSP, closely monitor breeding and track the genetic heritage of specific animals. When the situation is appropriate, red wolves may reproduce to perpetuate the species, both in the wild and in captivity. As participants in the SSP, we have been home to 48 different red wolves as of 2008. Only a few of these animals live in the exhibit enclosure. We also have an area that is far from public view, where red wolves may reside temporarily until they are moved to other SSP facilities.
We are proud of our efforts to protect and reintroduce this rarest of North American wild canines. In 2002, a litter of five pups were born at the North Carolina Zoo. Two of these pups were moved to the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge where they became the first captive-bred red wolves to be adopted by wild parents.