American Red Wolf


Scientific Name

Canis rufus

Species Survival Plan







White-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, rodents and nutria

Originally Native To

Southeast U.S.


24 inches at shoulder


45 - 80 lb.


Intermediate in size between gray wolves and coyotes; coat color is typically brown with red and black accents along the legs, head and ears

Gestation Period

62 - 63 days


2 - 6 pups

Birth Season

April - May


Wild 7 - 10 years
Captivity 12 - 15 years

Social Behavior

Packs of 5 - 8 wolves made up of an alpha pair and offspring of different ages


About American Red Wolf

The howl of the American red wolf was once heard throughout the southeastern United States from Texas to Illinois, but now it has become a rarity. The red wolf has become the world’s most endangered canid species. It has lost more of its historical range - 99.7 percent - than any other large carnivore.

Smaller than its northern cousin, the gray wolf, and larger than the coyote, the red wolf weighs 45-80 pounds. Red wolves have wide heads with broad muzzles; tall, pointed ears; and long, slender legs with large feet.

Their coat is a mixture of brown, tan, gray, and black with red accents on their ears, head, and throughout their entire coat. They are social animals that live in small packs - typically 5-8 animals - consisting of a mated pair that will stay together for life with their offspring of different years. After a 60-63-day gestation period, the mother will give birth to 2-6 pups on average in April or May.

These wolves have very shy and secretive personalities – tending to stay clear of human activities in the wild. They are primarily active at dusk and dawn and difficult to see at Fossil Rim because they are usually on the move.

The red wolf’s diet consists mostly of white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, rodents, and nutria. Since most prey items are small mammals, red wolves do not have to rely solely on pack hunting like Mexican gray wolves do. 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 2-5 pounds daily.

Today, they only live in the wild on 1.7 million acres in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. By the 1960s, the red wolf's habitat was continually being destroyed and, with the presence of intense predator control programs that were killing the wolves off, they were left on the brink of extinction and declared endangered in 1967. So, with hopes of creating a captive breeding program, more than 400 canids were caught near Texas and Louisiana, but of these wolves caught – only 17 were identified as pure red wolves.

In 1980, the red wolf was officially declared extinct in the wild and all hope to one day be able to release these wolves back into the wild was placed in the hands of the captive breeding program. The turning point came in 1987, when the captive breeding program proved to be a huge success and reintroduction began in North Carolina with the release of red wolves into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

The following year, the first litter of red wolf pups was born in the wild on this land and proved to be an important milestone in the ongoing recovery of this wolf. The red wolf continues to face problems, however, as there are less than 20 in the wild. On a positive note, there are around 250 living in captive facilities throughout the United States.

Fossil Rim has been a breeding facility for the Red Wolf SSP (Species Survival Plan) since 1989 and has produced 31 pups as of 2021. These wolves are housed in the Intensive Management Area and can potentially be viewed on the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. One other red wolf lives behind the Children's Animal Center.


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As a private nonprofit corporation, Fossil Rim does not receive national or state government support. Every cent spent or donated here goes in some way, directly or indirectly, toward the care of our animals.