April 3, 2020
Heather Clarkson

We have some great news to share with you this Friday, because we all could use a little bit of hope. 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced they successfully re-released a pair of American red wolves in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. The pair consisted of a female wolf previously captured from Alligator River, and a young male wolf who was born on St. Vincent Island in Florida. This is the second pair added to the state in 2020 – another male and female wolf were released in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.

The red wolf is the world’s most endangered canid. Once common throughout the Southeast United States, the red wolf population was decimated by the early 20th century. Since its listing in the first class of the Endangered Species Act, the red wolf has faced an embattled road to recovery. At one point, the population grew to over 150 animals, before falling victim to political pressure, illegal management and agency inaction, and now there are as few as 18 left in the wild.

In December, we told you all about FWS’ new plan to relocate red wolves in North Carolina and Florida, in order to encourage breeding pairs in the red wolf recovery area. This effort was critically needed, especially because 2019 was the first year in the history of the red wolf recovery program that no wild litters were born.

Red wolf running
Curtis Carley/USFWS

FWS biologists spent much of December and January in the field, working to trap the wolves for “matchmaking.” While the original plan was to capture

Red Wolf - Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge - South Carolina
Robert Ondrish

enough wolves for three new breeding pairs, some remained too elusive for traps. Nonetheless, the recovery team adapted to their challenges and two new red wolf pairs were created. The pairs were first released in acclimation pens donated by Defenders of Wildlife, where they were able to spend a few weeks getting to know each other before release. 

Although this much-needed step in red wolf recovery is very exciting, the wolves still need help. There is still a critical need for more robust efforts to support red wolves in North Carolina. Adaptive management techniques like coyote sterilization and additional releases from the captive population must be restarted as quickly as possible. Puppy fostering – the process of “releasing” captive newborn puppies into wild litters – would not only bolster the wild population, but it would also ease the burden of limited space that so many captive breeding facilities are facing.

We are excited to share good news with you in these challenging times, and we want to thank you all so much for your support of wildlife. 


Heather Clarkson

Heather Clarkson

Regional Outreach Representative
Heather Clarkson is responsible for leading advocacy efforts for the critically endangered red wolf.

Wildlife & Wild Places

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