Conservation Groups Take US Fish & Wildlife Service to Court for Failures to Protect the World's Only Wild Red Wolves

Chapel Hill, NC—Conservation groups filed a complaint late yesterday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for its failure to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves and its illegal action in authorizing the killing of a breeding female red wolf. The conservation groups involved in the litigation include the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

The complaint—filed after the Service announced in June 2015 that it had authorized the killing of the female red wolf and would suspend red wolf reintroductions into the wild—details the agency’s failure to investigate the status and reported recent decline of the wolves’ population, its actions and management that harm the survival of red wolves, and its failure to investigate how best to recover wild red wolves, as required by law. Since 2007, the Service has not conducted the five-year status review required by the Endangered Species Act to inform recovery and management efforts.

“Today we’ve gone to court to protect the world’s only wild population of red wolves that are now in critical condition with only 50-75 red wolves remaining in the wild, and to get the Service to fulfill its legal responsibility to protect them,” said Derb Carter, senior attorney and director of the North Carolina offices for the SELC. “The wild survival of America’s rarest wolf depends on whether the Service acts responsibly and fulfills its legal duty.”

According to the Service’s own estimates, the world’s only wild population of red wolves has declined by as much as half of what it was only a year ago when an estimated 100 red wolves lived within the five county red wolf recovery area in North Carolina.

“The red wolf is in grave danger of extinction, and if the US Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t step up and significantly modify its management approach for red wolves, we may never see this species in the wild again,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “This species can’t afford to wait another minute. The US Fish and Wildlife Service needs to take serious action and work with state and local governments to ensure the red wolf doesn’t slip away.”

“The red wolf was the top predator of the Southeast before human persecution and habitat destruction nearly wiped it out forever,” said Red Wolf Coalition executive director Kim Wheeler. “Any critically endangered animal that has been a keystone species in an ecosystem for thousands of years, and that is part of our recorded past, deserves every effort required to protect and restore it. We owe that to the red wolf—and to ourselves.”

“Through its active pursuit of activities that threaten the recovery of red wolves and clear neglect of those that remain, the Service is evidently trying to drive the Red Wolf Recovery program into the ground, despite wide public support,” said Tara Zuardo, wildlife attorney at AWI. “There are ample opportunities to work with local landowners, scientists, and the public in funding and supporting red wolf recovery in the wolves’ already-established home of North Carolina.”

To view the complaint, click here.

Note to Editors: Photographs of red wolves in North Carolina are available for use with appropriate photo credit from the US Fish & Wildlife Service at

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people.  AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit

About the Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.