The American red wolf was once a common sight across the southeastern United states, but over the years it’s numbers have dwindled down to make it the world’s most endangered canid species. In fact, in 1980 it was declared extinct in the wild, but thanks to careful breeding and reintroduction programs, the American red wolf now has a very small wild population in North Carolina. Still, more wolves live in captivity than in their native habitat, and their conservation is an ongoing effort across the United states.
Often mistaken for coyotes, American red wolves have a brownish-tan coat with ruddy accents on their ears and head. Their muzzles are broad, and their ears are typically tall and pointed. They have slender legs and large feet that help them swiftly navigate their terrain without stumbling. These wolves are known for their shy and secretive personality. They’re mostly active at dawn and dusk, but when they are sighted it will likely be with a small pack of 5 to 8 other wolves that consists of a mated pair and some offspring.
The American red wolf is an opportunistic hunter, able to travel around 20 miles a day in search of food. Despite this, they like to stick to their own territory and will go out of their way to avoid humans wherever possible. Their tan coloring helps them to blend in with the prairie grass of their native southeastern habitat, and aids in their stealth.
The American red wolf has lost more of its historical range than any other large carnivore, at 99.7% loss. This has contributed heavily to the decline of its population, which has seen very little comeback naturally in the wild. However, there are over 200 red wolves living in captive facilities across the U.S, each of whom play an important role in conservation. Fossil Rim was a part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan (SSP) from 1989 to 2023. In 2023, the SSP was dissolved and the focus was put on the Saving Species From Extinction (SAFE) program. We are proud to have produced a good number of pups over the years.
Where are they?
One of our red wolves live behind the Children’s Animal Center and can be viewed from an observation area and along the wolf hiking trail. The other red wolves live in the Intensive Management Area, which would require a Behind-The-Scenes Tour.
Red wolves are very shy, so keeping your voice low and stepping lightly can increase your chances of spotting one.
Species Survival Plan
White-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, rodents and nutria
Originally Native To
Intermediate in size between gray wolves and coyotes; coat color is typically brown with red and black accents along the legs, head and ears
Wild 7 - 10 years
Packs of 5 - 8 wolves made up of an alpha pair and offspring of different ages