Report confirms the endangered red wolf is its own distinct species

The wolf taxonomy committee of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has concluded that the endangered red wolf, found only in five counties in eastern North Carolina, is a valid and distinct species. The distinction gives the red wolf a much-needed scientific and political boost; there are fewer than 30 remaining red wolves in the wild.

Recently, some North Carolina officials argued that the red wolf was a coyote and gray wolf hybrid and pushed the government to abandon recovery efforts of the animal.

Red wolf advocates believe that the uncertainty surrounding the taxonomy of the red wolf has stalled recovery programs in recent years and cast doubt on the urgency to preserve the species. NASEM produced the report after Congress asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a taxonomic review of red and Mexican gray wolves. Yesterday’s announcement proves that the red wolf deserves their status as a distinct species and should continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The red wolf is one of the world’s most endangered species. Once common throughout the eastern and south central United States, the animal was decimated due to the destruction of their natural habitat and intensive predator control programs. The red wolf was designated as endangered in 1967 and declared extinct in the wild in 1980 when the last dozen wild red wolves were captured and brought into zoos for captive breeding. Twenty years later, red wolves were successfully reintroduced into the wild in eastern North Carolina; it was the first reintroduction of a large carnivore anywhere in the world. In 2006, the wild red wolf population peaked at 150 but several years of high gunshot mortality levels drastically lowered those numbers.

The public has overwhelmingly shown support for the protection of the red wolf in North Carolina. During the Fish and Wildlife Service’s public comment period in 2018, over 99 percent of the total comments received were in favor of protecting the red wolf in the state. Susan Holmes, Federal Policy Director of Wildlands Network, said in a press release that polls have shown nearly 80 percent of North Carolina voters are in support of restoring the red wolf in the state.