Biggest Threats to the Red Wolf

The red wolf, or Canis rufus, is the most critically endangered mammal in North America. In the 1980s, a mere 17 full-blooded red wolves existed in the world. Today, diligent efforts have helped to bring these beautiful creatures back from the brink of extinction, and some 300 red wolves cling to life in captive breeding programs and at one successful reintroduction site. However, serious problems still plague the red wolf, and it faces imminent extinction if it does not receive ongoing help from human stewards. Here are some of the biggest problems facing the red wolf.

1. Hybridization with Coyotes
Hyrbidization with related species is the biggest threat to the red wolf's survival. When red wolves were driven to near-extinction, it left a wide-open ecological niche for a canine predator species. Coyotes moved far into the East, where they completely replaced the red wolf. Almost all red wolves today are hybrids, and the few full-blooded red wolves who survive are at risk of inter-breeding with coyotes. To survive, wild red wolves must be allowed to thrive in wide expanses of coyote-free territory.
2. Hybridization with Dogs
This isn't as big of a threat to red wolves as their frequent cross-breeding with coyotes, but it is an ongoing issue. In the absence of suitable mates, red wolves have been known to mate with dogs and gray wolves-- two species that are related to, but distinct from, the red wolf. Gray wolf and domestic dog DNA have already polluted much of the red wolf gene pool. They must be given adequate territory and enough suitable mates in order to avoid this common problem.
3. Motor Vehicle Incidents
When the red wolf was initially reintroduced to the wild, many wolves died after being hit by automobiles. Experts speculate that these accidents involved "naive animals" and that the death rate caused by automobiles is likely lower now. Still, motorists should remain aware when driving through red wolf territory and take all necessary precautions to avoid such collisions.
4. Gunshots
Humans weilding guns were the original reason for the demise of the red wolf. Under the impression that the species posed a serious threat to livestock, hunters drove the red wolf to extinction in the wild. Today, the red wolf only lives in protected areas, and the USDA grants funds to farmers who lose livestock to these predators. However, if and when its wild territory does expand, gunshots may again pose a threat to the species' continued survival.
The red wolf is in dire need of ongoing help from humanity. We caused this species to lose its foothold in America's wildlands, and we owe it to them, ourselves, and our planet to restore them to their natural habitat. By remaining aware of what these animals need and what has caused their decline, we can help them to have a fighting chance at survival.