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Canis rufus - Red wolf
Range:  Southeastern United States (range formerly included the south-central US also)
Size:  60 lb (27 kg)

The red wolf (Canis rufus) is the wolf of the southeastern/south-central United States.  Its former range extended from Texas to Florida, and at least as far north as Missouri.  Three subspecies are recognized: the Florida (extinct by 1930), Mississippi Valley, and Texas red wolf.  Named for its rusty-red fur, the red wolf differs from the grey wolf not only in colouration but in size and build as well.  The red wolf rarely exceeds 60 lb (27 kg), and its legs and body are more slender.

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Red wolves live in small family packs of between two to eight individuals.  Like other wolves, the red wolf's population was drastically reduced due to persecution by man and the destruction of its habitat due to agriculture and logging.  By 1970, only a tiny population of this species remained in a small area of woodland in far southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana, and the continued existence of the species without human intervention appeared highly unlikely.
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red wolf

 
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Therefore, about a year earlier, 14 red wolves, carefully selected for the highest degree of genetic purity (the species is known to have interbred with coyotes as red wolf numbers declined) had been removed from the wild to begin a captive breeding effort to save the species from extinction.  The Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington was the first facility to begin breeding red wolves for the conservation program.
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By 1976, the first experimental attempt to restore red wolves to their natural habitat came with the release of several individuals onto a 5,000-acre Island located within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina.  1977 saw the total captive count of wolves at 35.  By 1980, the red wolf was considered  extinct in the wild.  In 1987 came the first mainland release of the species, this time at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.  The wolves had reproduced there by the next year, giving rise to the first wild-born wolves of the recovery program.  In the summer of 1989, a second release was made at the refuge to aid reproduction.  Because of the refuge's small size, fears arose that it would be unlikely to be able to support any more than perhaps two dozen red wolves.  By the mid- 1990s however, there were over 50 wolves inhabiting the refuge, at least 37 of which were wild born.  In 1993, the nearby Pocosin Lake National Wildlife Refuge was added to the reintroduction program, and two red wolf families were released there.  Releases have also been made on protected islands in Mississippi, Florida, and North Carolina.
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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee has recently been chosen for red wolf reintroduction.  A number of captive-born adults were released into the 500,000 acre park in 1991.  Since then, these wolves have reproduced successfully, and as was hoped, wolves born at the park have proved rather wary of contact with humans.  If all goes well, the park is estimated to be capable of supporting 50-75 red wolves.  One of the most pressing issues surrounding the red wolf is the hybridization factor.  For aid in conservation and legal purposes, the red wolf is most often considered as a pure species.  However, the final verdict on whether the red wolf of today is a true species, a grey wolf/coyote hybrid, or was a true species that long ago lost its genetic uniqueness due to interbreeding with coyotes, is far from settled.  Whether or not the red wolf is a species or hybrid is an issue which can seriously impact the protection it receives under the Endangered Species Act.  This law states that only animals which can be classified as true species are eligible for protection.  A genetic study performed in 1992 was unable to find any significant differences between red wolves and known grey wolf/coyote hybrids.  However, it has been pointed out that there exists the possibility that these preliminary findings could be erroneous, so the status of the red wolf as a genuine species, for the moment, stands.
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The red wolf recovery objective calls for a captive population of around 200 wolves and a wild stock of over 300 in order to maintain appropriate levels of genetic diversity.  Today, there are approximately 275-300 red wolves alive, about 220 of which are captives.  The rest are living wild.
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Considering that all of these wolves originate from the 14 animals taken from the wild back in 1969, the recovery program appears hopeful.
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Click here:to go to my page on the fossil red wolf.
Click here:to go to my Red Wolf Gallery.

RED WOLF LINKS:
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Red Wolves of Alligator River - New site by the North Carolina Zoological Park

 
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