Red Wolf Timeline

1768-1789 Wolf bounties awarded in North Carolina.
1791 Red wolf is first distinguished and described in Florida by John Bartram.
1889 Outram Bangs designates red wolves in Florida a species distinct from gray wolves. A debate over whether red wolves are a unique species or a gray wolf-coyote hybrid will continue into the 21st century.
1905 Red Wolf first officially recognized as distinct species.
1920 Deer herds (primary food source for red wolves) reach all-time low in southeastern US, decimated in part by extensive habitat loss from logging, mining and agriculture.

Coyotes move in old wolf ranges in increasing numbers in the southeastern US threatening increased hybridization with the few remaining red wolves.

Red wolves considered fully extirpated from Southern Atlantic States.

1930 Two viable red wolf populations remain in the wild: one in the Ozark/Ouachita Mountain region of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, and the other in Southwestern Louisiana and Southeastern Texas.
1944 Edward A. Goldman of the US Biological Survey consigned all the wolves of the southeastern US to one species, Canis rufus, consisting of C.r.rufus (Texas), C.r.floridanus (Florida), and C.r.gregoryi (lower Mississippi Valley) –  the nomenclature used today.

The last red wolves extirpated east of the Mississippi.

1962 Concern arises over possible extinction of the red wolf.
1967 Red wolf listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Preservation act of 1966.

Disagreement over classification of red wolves continues as research by Barbara Lawrence and William Bossert of Harvard contends red wolves should be treated as a subspecies of the gray wolf.

1968 The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) begins a study of red wolves in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
1969 First red wolf captured and placed into captivity for breeding at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, WA.
1971 Field research in LA and TX find that coyote hybridization is increasing dramatically among the remaining red wolf population. As a result, the Recovery Program shifts its focus from preservation in the wild to capture and captive breeding.

Study on the brains of canids by Dillon and Atkins confirms distinct and primitive characteristics of the red wolf from the gray wolf.

1972 Southeastern Texas and Southwestern Louisiana hold the last remaining wild red wolves.
1973 The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is enacted as federal law. USFWS officially begins implementation of the Red Wolf Recovery Plan.

Intensive capture efforts begin to start the captive-breeding program.

1975 USFWS receives authorization to capture all remaining wild red wolves.
1976 One pair of captive red wolves released on Bulls Island. Within two weeks they are recaptured after leaving the island and returned to captivity.
1977 First litter of red wolf pups born in captivity at Point Defiance Zoo, WA.
1978 Second release attempt on Bulls Island deemed a success after the wolves remain on the island after 6 months in an acclimation pen.
1979 Evaluation of Land Between the Lakes in TN and KY as the first red wolf reintroduction site begins.
1980 Last red wolves are captured in the wild and placed into captivity thus, marking the extinction of red wolves in the wild.

Report published by Ferrell et al. supports classification of red wolf as a distinct species through the identification of an allele unique to red wolves.

Since 1974, 400 canids were captured in LA and TX for the red wolf recovery program. Of these,14 will become the genetically pure breeding stock for all future generations of red wolves.

1984 Red Wolf Recovery Plan is revised and approved. Red wolf incorporated into American Zoological Association Species Survival Plan.

After months of public hearings, the TN Wildlife Resources Agency and the KY Department of Fish and Wildlife unanimously reject a USFWS proposal to release red wolves in Land Between the Lakes.

Prudential Insurance Co. donates 120,000 acres of swamp and pocosin (southeaster shrub bog) habitat for the creation of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in North Carolina.

1986 Reintroduced red wolves designated “experimental and nonessential” as part of a rally for public and state support for a reintroduction project in ARNWR.
1987 Four pairs of red wolves released into ARNWR for the start of the first reintroduction project. First island propagation project begins on Bulls Island in S. Carolina in an attempt to give red wolves some “wild experience” before release into mainland reintroductions.
1988 First litter born to red wolves released on Bulls Island. The juveniles were later relocated to ARNWR.

Two litters born in the wild to red wolves in ARNWR.

1989 Dr. Robert Wayne, UCLA, conducts genetic analysis of gray wolf, coyote and red wolf mitochondrial DNA and finds no distinct red wolf genotype, suggesting that red wolves are a hybrid. Wayne asserts that more study is needed for conclusive results.

Second island propagation project initiated with release of red wolves on Horn Island of the coast of Mississippi.

1990 Two litters born in the wild to ARNWR red wolves.

Third island propagation project begins with release of red wolves on St. Vincent Island off the Gulf coast of Florida. Pocosin Lakes NWR established on land within red wolf experimental population boundaries in eastern NC.

1991 American Sheep Industry Association petitions for a delisting of the red wolf and a halt to recovery efforts, citing Wayne’s work.

Second reintroduction project started with red wolves released in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).

1992 USFWS maintains protected status of red wolves, defeating the petitions to delist.

Second generation of wild red wolves born on private land near ARNWR.

42 red wolves roam in the wild.

1993 First red wolves released in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge near ARNWR.

By this point 27 pups have been born in the wild from released wolves – all but two have survived.

1994 Floods and severe storms hamper red wolf restoration efforts in the GSMNP.
1995 National Wilderness Institute files a petition to delist the red wolf based on nuclear DNA test results, again suggesting that the red wolf is of hybrid origin.

31 individuals form CROWN (Citizens Rights Over Wolves Now) in opposition to the presence of red wolves on private land and concern with the role of reintroduced red wolves in the ecosystem.

Senator Jesse Helms, NC, proposes legislation to cancel all federal funding for the red wolf recovery program. Legislation is defeated in the Senate by a vote of 50-48.

North Carolina House Bill 2006 “An Act to Allow the Trapping and Killing of Red Wolves by Owners of Private Land” goes into effect. This state law applies to two of the five counties in the reintroduction area.

Revised federal regulations are published addressing some private landowner concerns regarding red wolves on their property.

Approximately 56 red wolves exist in the wild.

1996 Work by Dr. Ron Nowak and Nick Federoff expands the historical range of the red wolf north to southeast Canada. This work also demonstrates no evidence that coyotes were originally present in the southeastern US to create a wolf-coyote hybrid.

Several wolf hybrid litters confirmed in the wild. Intensive management efforts begin to prevent red wolf-coyote hybridization events.

1997 Total red wolf population estimated at 295: about 96 in the wild in eastern NC and GSMNP, about 10 on three island propagation sites, and 179 in captive breeding facilities.

Based on all available commercial and scientific information, the USFWS finds the 1995 petition to delist the red wolf unwarranted. The scientific classification remains as Canis rufus.

Two North Carolina counties and two individuals file suit against the federal government to invalidate federal regulations regarding the “taking of red wolves on private land.”

1998 Since reintroduction efforts began in 1991, 30 pups have been born to wolves in the GSMNP; 0 survived except 2 that were removed as pups.

USFWS and National Park Service announces plans to end efforts to restore red wolves in the GSMNP due to low pup survival and inability of wolves to establish home ranges within the park. They recapture and relocate all the remaining red wolves in GSMNP after 26 of the 37 wolves released since 1991 have died or had to be recaptured after straying onto private lands.

The court upholds federal authority to regulate the “taking of red wolves” in the lawsuit filed in 1997.

Total red wolf population estimated at 260: about 73 in the wild in NC, one in the wild in GSMNP, about 11 on three island propagation sites, and 176 in 34 captive breeding facilities. Nearly 100% of the wild red wolves in NC were born in the wild.

Horn Island removed from the island propagation program because of increased probability of interactions with humans.

1999 164 red wolves exist in captivity and 75-80 exist in the wild.

Due to concerns over coyote-red wolf hybridization, the USFWS implements an adaptive management plan to minimize hybridization.

The 1998 court decision to uphold the federal authority to regulate the “taking of red wolves” is appealed by the plaintiffs.

2000 156 red wolves exist in captivity and 96 exist in the wild (66 are radio-collared and tracked – 8 sterilized hybrids, and 2 sterilized coyotes are also tracked). 12 packs made dens and 7 known litters of pups were born. Additionally, there were 3 red wolf-coyote hybrid litters born.

USFWS continues attempts to control coyote-red wolf hybridization by killing or sterilizing them. Sterilized hybrids are collared and re-released so that they hold territories but do not breed.

2001 75 red wolves are radio-collared and tracked (42 males, 33 females). Roughly 16 pairs are expected to have had pups. Three litters of coyote-red wolf hybrids are found.
2002 USFWS adaptive management plan seems to be reducing the number of coyote-red wolf hybrids as only 1 hybrid litter is found.

2 captive pups from the North Carolina Zoological Park are placed with a wild mother in eastern N. Carolina. This is the first attempt at fostering captive born red wolf pups with a wild mother.

147 red wolves in captivity: 100 in the wild (72 radio-collared and tracked – 21 sterilized hybrids and coyotes also tracked). 9 red wolf litters (40 pups) born in the wild.

2003 Final Rule to reclassify gray wolves has no effect on red wolf status.

September 18 hurricane Isabel directly hit Alligator River NWR and decimated the Sandy Ridge captive red wolf facility killing male wolf 520M.

The first GPS collar is used in the recovery program on a red wolf-coyote hybrid to track his movements.

Biologists are matching lone wolves of the opposite sex in an attempt to head-off non-wolf/wolf pairs and reduce hybridization in recovery areas where wolf density is low.

2004 The largest pup season yet with 11 dens and 55 pups. Two additional pups were integrated into wild wolf litters for fostering. 61 collared red wolves, 12 collared hybrids, 22 known packs.
2005 Island propagation program ends at Bulls Island, South Carolina. Remaining red wolves are relocated to ARNWR and SSP facilities.
2007 Red Wolf Recovery Program receives the Association of Zoos and Aquariums North American Conservation Award.
2013  Approximately 90-110 wild red wolves (~70 known radio-collared animals) exist in the northeastern North Carolina recovery area; and ~190 red wolves in >40 captive breeding facilities participating in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan.
2015 According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 50 to 75 wild red wolves exist in the northeastern North Carolina recovery area. About 50 of them are known radio-collared wolves. Another 190 red wolves (approximately) live in about 40 captive breeding facilities that are participating in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan.

In June, the USFWS announced it would halt red wolf reintroductions pending an examination of its recovery program. This press release has all the details.

2016 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would be making significant changes to its red wolf recovery program. This press release spells out the changes.

In June, the USFWS estimated that there were between 45 and 60 wild red wolves living in North Carolina.

In September, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction that orders the USFWS to stop capturing and killing members of the population of wild red wolves. According to the Red Wolf Coalition: Earlier that week, the agency had announced its proposal to remove most members of the world’s only wild population of red wolves that now roam a five-county area in northeastern North Carolina and to put them into captivity—thus abandoning all protective efforts, except in one refuge where one pack lives and in a bombing range. Read the full story here.

2017 United States Senate report called for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “end the red wolf recovery program and declare the red wolf extinct.” Article here.
2018  The Washington Post wrote a lengthy story about whether or not red wolves can be saved in North Carolina. The full story can be seen here.