Endangered red wolves can only be found in NC. Here are 7 things to know about them.

Red wolves once spanned almost all of the eastern United States, ranging as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.

Now, the population is significantly diminished, and work is underway to try to restore the species.

Here are some key facts to know about this wolf, which can only be found in the wild in North Carolina.

How many red wolves are there?

Right now, there are 18 known red wolves in the wild and an estimated 20 to 22 total, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another 263 live in captivity.

Where do red wolves live?

The wild population of red wolves lives in a five-county region in northeastern North Carolina, with packs living at both the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Captive wolves in North Carolina can be found at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, which has two wolves; the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, which has more than two dozen wolves; and at the Red Wolf Center on Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, which has a pair of wolves.

How big are red wolves?

A red wolf stands about 2-feet high and is about 4-and-a-half feet long, according to the N.C. Zoo.

Red wolves are smaller than their cousins, the gray wolves.

A coyote stands about the same height but is often a little shorter, typically 3.3 to 4.3 feet long. The similarities between the creatures are part of why conservationists believe red wolves are susceptible to gunshots — someone who is shooting a canine, particularly when visibility is low, can’t be sure which species they’re firing at.

Red wolves also have pointed ears and long legs with narrow feet, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, while coyotes have longer muzzles.

If you are in the five-county range where red wolves can be found (Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington), you need a permit to hunt coyotes and can only shoot them during the daytime. You also must report any coyote you kill within 24 hours, as well as any red wolf you accidentally shoot.

How long do red wolves live?

On average, a red wolf lives six years, according to the N.C. Zoo.

The oldest known red wolf on record died of natural causes last year at Alligator River. She was 14 years old.

How often do red wolves breed?

Red wolves breed once a year, in February, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

They give birth about 60 days later, typically to three to six pups. Those pups will join the pack for a time before striking out on their own when they are between 1 and 2 years old to form their own packs.

What do red wolves eat?

Red wolves’ favorite food includes white-tailed deer, raccoons and some smaller species like rabbits, rodents and nutria, according to the FWS.

Red wolves eat two to five pounds a day. They can travel about 20 miles a day in their efforts to find food.

How do red wolves die?

In the wild, wolves are most often killed when they are hit by a car or shot.

Since July 1, 2023, there have been at least six wild red wolf deaths at Alligator River. Of those, two wolves were hit by cars, at least one was shot, two more are the subject of what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls “open law enforcement investigations” and another is awaiting a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

This story was produced with financial support from the Hartfield Foundation and Green South Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. If you would like to help support local journalism, please consider signing up for a digital subscription, which you can do here.