In the late eighties, the Red Wolf was re-introduced to the southeast in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.
There remains heated debate about the true historic makeup of the Red Wolf. Some experts argue it may have been the first species of wolf to make the journey from Europe, giving it kingdom over the more recognized Canis lupus, or Gray Wolf. Others argue, however somewhat speciously, that Red, Canis rufus, is not a true wolf at all, but a coyote-gray wolf hybrid and if so, may not have ever warranted the levels of protection it now receives.
That potential lack of protection stems from an insertion into the Endangered Species Act that requires animals subject to its laws be a genetically pure species. The debate on the Red Wolf led to a number of delays in its re-introduction. Ultimately, the ambiguity led to the decision to move forward with a “non-essential experimental” re-introduction, which means, in short and among other stipulations, that people who shoot for protection of commercial livestock or accidentally harass the Red will not be reprimanded under the ESA.
Today, there are more than 100 Red Wolves in the eastern North Carolina marshy flatlands that feed the sounds and rivers that segment the Outer Banks from the mainland. There are several packs documented as established and to date, hunter and farmer interactions with wolves have remained, relatively speaking, a non-issue.
And now it’s spring, which means pups are beginning to appear in dens. And here is some great video of two newly born female Red Wolves, captured by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Recovery Program.
U.S. 64, the central artery between metropolitan North Carolina and the swell-rich Outer Banks offers a number of recreational opportunities to explore the regions where C. rufus thrives. But, like most wolves, they are exceptionally elusive and highly cognizant of a foreign presence.
Nevertheless, the paddling trails and observation decks offer great chances to spot black bears, which are more prevalent in eastern North Carolina than in the state’s mountainous western end.