Scientists Declare Red Wolf to be Valid Species

Photo from Flickr by USFWS Southeast

Federal Government Must Resume Protecting Red Wolves in the Wild

Washington, DC–The Animal Welfare Institute commends today’s announcement by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Mathematics that the red wolf is a “distinct species.” As detailed in the National Academies’ report, “Evaluating the Taxonomic Status of the Mexican Gray Wolf and the Red Wolf,” some of the country’s leading geneticists, taxonomists, and canid experts determined that this finding was the most plausible of the taxonomic options under consideration and that red wolves are distinct from coyotes and gray wolves.

“Today’s finding should put to rest the unscientific claims by opponents of red wolf protection that the animal is not a separate species and therefore undeserving of protection under the Endangered Species Act,” says Cathy Liss, president of AWI.

The red wolf was originally listed in 1967 as endangered under the precursor to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, an experimental population of captive-bred red wolves was reintroduced into eastern North Carolina in 1987. The ESA requires that this population be managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in a manner that will allow it to recover.

For the next 25 years, the recovery program was a striking success and the wild population of red wolves grew to an estimated 150 or more individuals. However, starting in 2012, the population began to decline due to hostile actions taken by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and gross mismanagement by the USFWS.

Despite repeated legal victories by AWI and its co-plaintiffs that required the USFWS to protect and recover the species and to cease authorizing the killing of red wolves who posed no threat to human safety and property, the USFWS has allowed the wild population to dwindle to near extinction. It now numbers a mere 18 wolves, with a single breeding pair, and the original red wolf recovery area has been drastically reduced in response to political pressure.

“The USFWS decision to reverse course on a successful recovery program and facilitate the red wolf’s slide toward extinction in the wild is a travesty and a clear violation of federal law,” says D.J. Schubert, AWI’s wildlife biologist. “With today’s finding, there is no more excuse for not immediately restoring full protections and urgently enacting management measures to rebuild North Carolina’s wild red wolf population and to restore the species to other areas within its historic range.”

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Media Contact

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

Photo from Flickr by USFWS Southeast