The Secret World of Red Wolves

T. DeLene Beeland / The University of North Carolina Press / 272 pages

According to author T. DeLene Beeland, many devoted wildlife lovers are completely unaware that there is a separate species of wolf in North America called the red wolf (Canis rufus); even fewer know that the red wolf likely evolved solely in North America, unlike its more famous cousin, the gray wolf (Canis lupus).

In The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf, North Carolina-based nature and science writer Beeland tells the oft-overlooked story of the red wolf, its flirtation with extinction, and its restoration to the wild in one of the earliest efforts by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce a native carnivore to a portion of its historic range.

Historically, red wolves are thought to have ranged from Pennsylvania south to Florida and west to central Texas and southern Illinois. Intensive predator control programs and the degradation and alteration of the species’ habitat had greatly reduced its numbers by the early 20th century. By 1980, the red wolf was considered extinct in the wild. In 1987, an experimental population of red wolves from a captive breeding program was reintroduced into eastern North Carolina. Today, there are about 100 wild red wolves living within the designated recovery area, but their survival and recovery is severely threatened by hunting, climate change, and hybridization with coyotes.

Beeland explains how ecologically, the red wolf—one of the shyest, most elusive predators in nature—lives and functions in a manner similar to other wolves: red wolves live in extended family units, and the breeding pair bond and produce young over many breeding seasons, often spending their entire adult lives together.

In an interview with UNC Press, Beeland states “‘The red wolf’s story is very much the broader story of many wolves and wild canids globally that have been misunderstood and persecuted until their populations shrank to near extinction, but that were then revived or stabilized with modern conservation efforts. The question, of course, is what trajectory these wolves will take from here.’”

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