Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Red Wolves of Alligator River

When Madeline and I began planning our trip to the Outer Banks back in January, we read about Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which I've written about in the few previous entries. ARNWR is home to the ONLY wild population of red wolves (Canis rufus), and incidentally, the Red Wolf Recovery Program. Mady and I began learning as much as we could about this amazing program housed on the East Coast. I made a few phone calls, and was able to get in touch with David Rabon, PhD, who is the Head Red Wolf Biologist for this program. David and I have kept in touch, and he generously agreed to give up a morning to spend with us talking about the program.

To learn more about it, check out their website at: USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program

So yesterday (March 14th, 2012), Mady and I were getting ready to meet David at his office in Manteo, NC which is about 20 minutes from where we've been staying. I get a phone call from David, and before I answer it, I'm thinking something has come up, and he has to cancel. Far from that, David asked us to meet him AT the refuge. With a new fire lit under us, we threw all of our gear in the car and took off to ARNWR to meet David.

We met up with him in the parking lot on Milltail Road, for any of you who haven't visited ARNWR, this is the entrance to the Wildlife Drive that Mady and I have driven several time this week. He gave us the rundown of the program, the history of the extirpation, and also drew out a phylogenetic tree in the dirt on my car. I've heard alot of debate about the lineage of the red wolves, and David gave us his/the program's official position on the lineage of the red wolves. It was very interesting, and I am interested in doing some more learning!

Anyway, after we talked for half an hour or so, David said that he would be willing to take us back into "The Pens" where the captive animals are being kept...which is something that the members of the public DO NOT get to experience. We are INCREDIBLY lucky to have been able to get to do this! Our hopes of seeing a wild wolf on our own were dashed when David explained that about 100+ wolves were spread out over 5 counties/1.7 million acres. WHOA. I do have to mention also that Alligator River is not the only refuge in the area to have wolves living on it's soil. Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge also has some resident wolves. We were very excited to be able to see some wolves, as our chances truly in the wild were slim to none. Although these wolves are captive, they are wild. Unnamed, assigned a number, untamed, not pets...these wolves are through and through wild.

We had to go through 2 locked fences, both to keep the free-roaming red wolves out, as well as the captive wolves in.

David letting us in the first gate.

The pens

The inside of a pen. There were 8 pens, but I don't think there was a wolf in every pen. Only one wolf to a pen. If you look hard, you might be able to see a wolf in here somewhere.

Each pen is assigned a number...

...and each wolf is assigned a number, which is what they're referred to.

Most of the wolves we checked out were freaked that we were there. Pacing, moving back and forth quickly, trying to hide and get as far away from of as possible. None of them were "friendly" or tame.

Thank God for my new camera, I would have never been able to get pictures of the wolves with my old gear!

The last wolf we saw exhibited the other type of behavior that David said we could expect to see. This wolf was very timid and scared... and was in the farthest corner it could be from us. When I think of a dog backed into a corner, this is what I think of.

This wolf is an old female that used to be bred to add to the population, but she's now been retired from the "job". The recovery program doesn't have the staffing or other resources to support an active breeding program, and the wolves seem to be doing well on their own without the help of a captive breeding program anymore. Occassionally wolves that are unable to be living in the wild are sent to various other facilities to for exhibition and education, or to diversify the DNA.

What an awesome experience, and many thanks again to David for allowing us the opportunity to learn about the program he oversees, and for this once in a lifetime chance to see such a gorgeous Canid.


  1. very cool stuff. Beautiful animals. Thanks or sharing and glad you got to experience them.

  2. Great story. I must correct you on one big misconception. The wild population of red wolves lives in 5 countines in northeastern North Carolina, Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington counties. They live on 1.7 million acres which includes Alligotor River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The wolves do not just live at ARNWR.

    1. Kim, thank you! I will be sure to make that clear.

  3. Welcome (belatedly!) to red wolf country from the Red Wolf Coalition! Check us out at We work closely with the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program. Just a couple of wee things: The red wolf restoration area encompasses five entire counties in northeastern NC - Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell, Beaufor and Washington. Three major wildlife refuges are there AND a whole lot of private land as well where the red wolves roam. Feel free to contact me for more information if you want to! "Neil" (for Cornelia)


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