The Red Wolf (Canis lupus rufus) is a North American canid subspecies which once roamed throughout the Southeastern United States and is a glacial period survivor of the Late Pleistocene epoch. Its natural range extended from Texas to Florida northward to New York. Historical habitats included forests, swamps, and coastal prairies, where it was an apex predator. The Red Wolf became extinct in the wild by 1980. A population of Red Wolf/Coyote hybrids  has been successfully reintroduced to eastern North Carolina. Although this population has grown to over 100 animals, it is still highly endangered.
The Red Wolf has a brownish or cinnamon pelt, with grey and black shading on the back and tail. Its muzzle is white furred around the lips. Black specimens have been recorded, but these are probably extinct. The Red Wolf is generally intermediate in size between the Coyote and the Gray Wolf. Males can reach up to five feet in length and 80 lbs. in weight. Like the Gray Wolf, it has almond-shaped eyes, a broad muzzle and a wide nosepad, though like the Coyote, its ears are proportionately larger. The Red Wolf has a deeper profile, longer and broader head than the coyote, and has a less prominent ruff than the Gray Wolf. It moults once annually every winter.
The Red Wolf is more resistant to heartworm infestations than most other canids. Restored Red Wolf populations in North Carolina tested positive for heartworm, though the infestation has not been shown to be a major mortality source. The dental formula is:
The Red Wolf typically reaches maturity at the age of 22 months, though specimens reproducing at the age of 10 months have been recorded. The mating season takes place in February and March with a gestation period of 61–63 days. Pups are usually born in March or April, and number about 1 to 10 babies per litter (though two to five pups are common). The breeding pair typically produce one litter annually. Females may establish several dens during the denning season. The pups are often moved from one den to another.
The Red Wolf lives in an extended family unit which includes a dominant breeding pair and young from prior seasons. Offspring typically disperse before the age of 2 years. Group size in north-eastern North Carolina usually numbers from 2–12. The Red Wolf will scent mark territorial boundaries to deter intrusion from other wolf packs. As an apex predator, Red Wolves have no natural predators, although they may compete for prey with bob cats and coyotes and kills may be stolen by American black bears.
The Red Wolf usually hunts at night, dawn or dusk. It usually feeds alone, though there is evidence of pack hunting behavior. It is not uncommon for pack members to partition resources. In south-east Texas, the Red Wolf primarily feeds on nutria, rabbits, Hispid Cotton Rats, Marsh Rice Rats and muskrats. The reintroduced Red Wolf population of north-eastern North Carolina feeds primarily on white-tailed deer, raccoons and rabbits. At least three livestock depredations have been recorded from this population. Unlike the larger Gray Wolf, which has historically been known to become a man-eater on rare occasions, the red wolf has not been recorded to attack people, though they were reported to scavenge upon corpses on the battlefields of the Mexican-American War.
Many agency reports, books and web pages list the Red Wolf as Canis rufus but recent genetic research has opened a debate about the taxonomy of both the Red Wolf and Eastern Wolf. Wilson et al.. (2000) concluded that the Eastern Wolf and Red Wolf should be considered as sister taxa and recognized as distinct species from other North American canids. However, these conclusions have been widely disputed, and Mammal Species of the World which Wikipedia uses as its guide lists them both as subspecies of the Gray Wolf, while noting that extensive hybridization has called the taxon into question.
When considered as a full species, three subspecies of Red Wolf were recognized; two of these subspecies are extinct. Canis rufus floridanus (Maine to Florida). has been extinct since 1930 and Canis rufus gregoryi (south-central United States) was declared extinct in the wild by 1970. Canis rufus rufus, the third surviving subspecies, was extinct in the wild in 1980, although that status was changed to "critically endangered" when 100 wolves were reintroduced in North Carolina. The original range of C. r. rufus was central and coastal Texas and southern Louisiana.
Archaeological evidence has suggested an origin of the Red Wolf line 1–2 Ma, branching from a wolf-coyote ancestor, which itself appeared about 4.9 Ma. Between 150 000–300 000 years ago, the North American branch evolved into the Red Wolf, Eastern Wolf and the Coyote. Another wolf-like branch migrated to Eurasia and evolved into the Gray Wolf, which later migrated to North America. Recent research has created debate over the taxonomy of the red wolf, specifically, whether it should be a species or a subspecies within the Gray Wolf.
It is thought that its original distribution included much of eastern North America, where Red Wolves were found from Maine south to Florida and in southcentral US westward to Texas. Records of bounty payments to Wappinger Indians in New York in the middle 18th century confirm its range at least that far north; it's possible that it could have extended as far as extreme eastern Canada. There are thought to be about 300 Red Wolves remaining in the world, with 207 of those in captivity. For decades, the Red Wolf has been indistinguishable genetically from either the Gray Wolf or the Coyote. The Red Wolf breeds with both species and may again be in peril as contact with other species in the wild resumes.
Disease, aggressive predator control programs and widespread habitat loss due to agriculturalization have combined to bringing the red wolf close to extinction, and it now is considered rare. Like the grey wolf, red wolves were previously considered a threat to livestock. Red wolves were the first species in the U.S. to be successfully reintroduced after extinction in the wild in 1980.
Captive breeding & reintroduction
By the 1970s, the Red Wolf was reduced to a single small population in eastern Texas. Wild canids were captured in eastern Texas to establish a breeding program. 14 animals thought to be pure Red Wolves were selected. The captive breeding program began at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 1970 when the zoo agreed to take in some red wolves for display, and over the next three years 13 individuals were sent there.
In 1976, two wolves were unsuccessfully released onto Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge's Bulls Island. The experiment was tried again in 1978 with a better outcome. After that, a larger project was begun in 1987 to reintroduce Red Wolves back to the wild in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern coast of North Carolina. In the same year, Bulls Island became the first island breeding site. Pups were raised on the island and relocated to North Carolina until 2005.
Since 1987, over 100 wolves have been reintroduced and even more have been born into captivity. In 1989, the second island propagation project was initiated with release of a population on Horn Island off the Mississippi coast. This population was removed in 1998 because of a likelihood of encounters with humans. The third island propagation project introduced a population on St. Vincent Island, Florida offshore between Cape San Blas and Apalachicola, Florida in 1990, and in 1997 the fourth island propagation program introduced a population to Cape St. George Island, Florida south of Apalachicola, Florida.
In 1991, two pairs were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the last known Red Wolf was killed in 1905. Despite some early success, the wolves were relocated to North Carolina in 1998, ending the effort to reintroduce the species to the Park.
On April 30, 2008, Indiana University East revealed the Red Wolves to be the new mascot for the campus.
On January 1, 2008, Arkansas State University’s Mascot Selection Steering Committee decided to use the Wolves as a mascot. The Red Wolves were officially approved by the university board of trustees on March 7, 2008. The ceremony and unveiling of the new Red Wolves logo was held on March 13, 2008.
On July 1, 1976, the Red Wolf became the official mascot of the United States Navy's premier Naval Special Warfare Support Helicopter Squadron, HAL-4. Today, they are known as HSC-84 and fly the HH-60H Rescue Hawk.
The chorus of the song "Coyotes" (written by Bob McDill, re-popularized by Don Edwards's performance in the documentary Grizzly Man) states that "the red wolf is gone." The line is an allusion to the cowboy's vanishing way of life.
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