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Red Wolf Fact Sheet
The red wolf is twice as big as a coyote and about half
the size of a gray wolf. Adult females average 52 pounds
and adult males average 61 pounds. Their name comes
from their reddish-brown hair coat. Red wolves have
tall, pointed ears and long legs with big feet. Adults
stand about 26 inches tall at the shoulder and are
about 4 1/2 feet long from the tip of their snout to
the end of their tail.
Historically, red wolves were found throughout the
southeastern United States. Their current mainland
range is eastern North Carolina at the Alligator River
National Wildlife refuge and eastern Tennessee in the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A few red wolves
have also been reintroduced to small islands off the
coasts of South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi.
Red wolves were eliminated in the southeastern United
States by trapping, poisoning, shooting, and destruction
of critical habitat. By the mid-1960s the few remaining
red wolves were restricted to isolated areas along
the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas. These surviving
wolves were in terrible physical condition. The most
obvious problem was "sarcoptic mange" (a skin disease) caused
by a tiny external parasite. Some of the wolves had
rubbed and scratched away most of their hair trying
to relieve the itching caused by the parasite. An
even more serious problem was "heartworm."
This internal parasite is carried by mosquitoes and
injected into the animal's bloodstream as the mosquito
is feeding. Adult worms live in the wolf's heart and
cause severe health problems that can lead to death.
Because of the red wolves' poor physical condition,
loss of habitat, and persecution by man, biologists
from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to the
conclusion that the only way to save the red wolf was
to take it out of the wild.
Animals thought to be pure red wolves were flown to
the captive breeding program, managed by the Point Defiance
Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. Of the 400 animals biologists
captured, only 17 were certified as pure red wolves.
The others were part coyote, part red wolf. Both wolves
and coyotes are members of the canine family (dogs
and foxes are also canines) and many had mated over
the years, creating a hybrid, or mixed-breed canine.
In only a few decades, a magnificent predator that
had roamed the southeastern United States for centuries
had been reduced to less than 20 animals.
The red wolf capture program ended in 1980. In the
autumn of that same year, genetically pure red wolves
were considered to be extinct in the wild.
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