Red Wolves—Once Extinct in Wild—Howl at Sky in Beautiful, Rare Footage

Red Wolves—Once Extinct in Wild—Howl at Sky in Beautiful, Rare Footage

A photographer has captured incredible footage of extremely rare red wolves in North Carolina. The video, which was shot by wildlife photographer Jennifer Hadley, shows a mother wolf and her two pups howling into the sky.

Red wolves are the rarest wolf species in the world with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FSW) estimating the wild population to number only between 19 and 21 individuals, as of July, 2022.

Red wolves once roamed across an area extending from southeastern Texas to central Pennsylvania. But today they are critically endangered and can only be found in the wild on the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula, located in the east of North Carolina.

“These are truly American wolves,” Hadley told Newsweek. “Gray wolves exist in all sorts of places all over the world but not these. They were original to the U.S. and have remained that way.”

Red wolves are relatively lean and their coats tend to be brown or buff in color, with some black patches along the back. In some places, the fur has a reddish tint.

These animals are smaller than their gray wolf relatives, but larger than coyotes, weighing anywhere between 45 and 80 pounds and growing to lengths of about four feet.

Red wolves mate for life and form tight-knit packs usually numbering five to eight individuals, which may include a dominant breeding pair and their offspring.

This species has a characteristic howl that resembles that of a coyote’s but is usually lower in pitch while also lasting longer. The wolves use these howls to communicate along with other vocalizations, body language and scent marking.

Stock image: A red wolf in North Carolina. Red wolves are critically endangered and today are found only in eastern North Carolina.
Stock image: A red wolf in North Carolina. Red wolves are critically endangered and today are found only in eastern North Carolina.

Hunting and habitat loss had almost driven red wolves to extinction by 1970. But in 1973, the canid was listed under the Endangered Species Act and the FSW began an ambitious recovery program, which involved capturing the handful of remaining red wolves the agency could find in the wild and breeding them in captivity.

This breeding program saved the red wolf, which was declared extinct in the wild in 1980. In the late 1980s and early 1990s dozens of red wolves were reintroduced into areas of northeastern North Carolina. By 2012, the wild population peaked at around 120 animals, according to the FSW.

But after this peak, the wild population declined significantly, primarily due to human-driven causes such as shootings and vehicle strikes, although there are currently more than 240 red wolves being kept in captivity as part of the recovery program.

Between 2019 and 2021, no new red wolf pups were recorded being born in the wild—the first time this had occurred for more than three decades. But in April, 2022, officials confirmed a litter of six pups.

“There is a significant conservation and reintroduction effort in the works by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and it’s a great story of resilience and perseverance,” Hadley said. “I believe the conservation story is a very important one and on par with the condor or American bald eagle.”

Hadley and colleagues Cassia Rivera and Nancy Arehart recently released a documentary film titled Right of Passage to raise awareness to support conservation efforts surrounding safer wildlife corridors for the red wolves and other wildlife in Eastern North Carolina.

During another excursion to a remote area of Canada on the Hudson Bay, Hadley also captured fascinating footage of a pack of gray wolves hounding and taunting a polar bear.

“The pack of 14 wolves had several pups and although there was not an obvious food source they were guarding, I was able to see some scraps of something laying around,” Hadley said in an Instagram post.

The photographer said it was very unusual behavior for wolves to go after a fully-grown polar bear in this manner.

“They do go after cubs but it’s very dangerous for them to tangle with a full-grown bear. One swipe from a bear’s massive paw would send a wolf flying and could cause massive injuries or death,” she said. “After about three minutes of persuasion and a total of seven wolves, the bear decided to turn around and head the other way, after which the wolves let him be and returned to their pack.”

Hadley told Newsweek she didn’t realize at the time that what she had captured was an “extremely rare” incident.

This article by Aristos Georgiou was first published by Newsweek on 16 September 2022. 

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